Sen. Barack Obama's campaign apologized Wednesday for incidents in which Muslim women were asked not to stand or sit behind the candidate at a rally in Metro Detroit this week out of concerns about the appearance of traditional Muslim dress associated with the Democratic candidate in published and broadcast visuals of the events.
"This is of course not the policy of the campaign," spokesman Bill Burton said. "It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run. We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers." Obama's campaign also pointed to a number of published and broadcast images that include women in hijab, a traditional Muslim head scarf intended to signify and promote modesty, as part of the faith.
But, Sharif Aref of Bloomfield Township, a law student at the University of Detroit-Mercy, said the incident occurred when he and friends attending the rally Monday night at Joe Louis Arena were invited to stand behind Obama on the stage
"We said OK, but that we had to bring my sister with us," Aref said. "But, when we told the woman that my sister had a head scarf, she was immediately denied and we were told she was not allowed to come sit there."
About an hour before the event, Aref said, a friend, Shimaa Abdelfadeel, who works at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in an office that encourages diversity, called from outside Joe Louis Arena to say she also was approached by a member of Obama's staff and told she could stand behind the candidate, but only if she removed her scarf.
Abdelfadeel's experience was reported Wednesday morning on Politico.com.
"I was saddened," Aref said. "I just thought it was a very unfortunate event to take place at an Obama rally, of all places. Obama is sitting there and teaching new politics and change and saying he is going to gather people of every faith and race and ethnicity, and going to bring us all together as one, and at the same time, you have discrimination tactics against Muslims taking place at the same event."
But, Aref said he, his sister and those involved in the incident, remain supporters of Obama and intend to vote for him.
"We just want to make it clear, we still support Obama," Aref said. "We don't have any negative agenda other than we just want to get the story out because it is an important issue to acknowledge.
"I highly doubt that Obama was aware of what was going on, and I think he just needs to know what goes on at his rallies so he can correct it." . . .
The Michigan office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, which became aware of the incident Wednesday morning, issued a statement:
"Although we welcome the Obama campaign's apology, we are extremely concerned about the level of Islamophobia in our society that would prompt other minorities to view Muslim supporters as potential liabilities. We hope that Senator Obama will personally apologize to the two women and that he decries the current Islamophobic climate in our nation that is not only attacking him but has even jaded some within his own campaign."
Dawud Walid, director of the local office of CAIR, said that member of Obama's staff told him that they are attempting to contact each of the individuals involved so that a high-ranking aide could issue a personal apology.
While the campaign denied women with traditional Islamic dress would be singled out, it is commonly observed that campaigns pick and choose who will stand behind a candidate at major public appearances at rallies, and that attempts are made to balance the diversity of those appearing in the background. (MORE)