They were attracted to his message of diversity and unity, but two Muslim women who went to Barack Obama’s rally at Joe Louis Arena on Monday went home feeling left out.
They were barred from prime seats behind the stage because of their traditional Muslim head scarves, after campaign volunteers had invited their non-Muslim friends to the seats.
The campaign apologized to the women Tuesday and in a statement issued Wednesday, blamed the incident on the volunteers.
Still, it illustrates how the pressures of image-making in a presidential campaign combined with sensitivities over unfounded rumors that Obama is secretly a Muslim can create a sudden storm — awkwardly in metro Detroit, home to the nation’s most influential community of Arab Americans.
Campaigns often take special care to create visual images that help candidates, which includes surrounding them with people who reflect their views and core supporters.
But the apology fell short for one of the women wearing a hijab. Hebba Aref, 25, a Bloomfield Hills resident and graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, said she’s never before “been treated that way.”
“It’s so ironic that it was at his rally. He obviously would not promote any discrimination at all,” she said. Although disappointed, Aref said she still supports Obama. . .
Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also received a call of apology from Obama’s campaign Wednesday.
“We would like to see the senator decry the Islamophobia that seeks to marginalize Muslims from the political process,” he said.
Obama met last month privately in Macomb County with a Muslim leader from Dearborn, Imam Hassan Qazwini.
Here’s what happened to the two women, based on Free Press interviews with Aref and her brother’s friend, Ali Koussan, and a report by Politico.com, which broke the story: (MORE)