Now that Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have become the presumptive presidential nominees for the Republicans and Democrats, they should address how all bigotry, including Islamophobia, hurts America.
The need to address this issue is urgent given the spike in anti-Muslim rhetoric and fear-mongering during the presidential campaign. Former GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee wrote a commentary titled "We must defeat Islamofascism" in an effort to prove his national security prowess. His commentary falsely linking Islam to the odious philosophy of fascism was published on the same day that the British government announced the curtailment of "aggressive rhetoric" relating to Islam and Muslims.
During the Nevada caucuses, anonymous phone calls repeatedly referring to "Barack Hussein Obama" reached thousands of voters. Invoking the name "Hussein," which means handsome in Arabic, has become a key weapon of Obama's Islamophobic detractors.
Islamophobia, like other forms of bigotry, is un-American. Allowing it to grow unchallenged is opposed to our national values that mandate dignity and freedom from marginalization for all people, regardless of race, gender or creed.
The candidates have made positive statements about Muslims or have repudiated anti-Muslim comments to some degree. In an interview with Beliefnet, McCain stated, "I admire the Islam. There are a lot of good principles in it."
On "60 Minutes," Obama responded to rumors about him being Muslim by stating: "I have never been a Muslim. Am not a Muslim. These e-mails are obviously not just offensive to me, somebody who is a devout Christian, who's been going to the same church for the last 20 years, but it's also offensive to Muslims, because it plays into, obviously, a certain fear-mongering there."
Such statements are welcome, but not sufficient. Strong statements that Muslims are legitimate Americans with the right to full expression and that Islamophobia is counterproductive to our national interests have been sorely missing from the political landscape.
If the presidential nominees fail to speak out strongly against bigotry, they should take responsibility for the fact that being soft on bias against Muslims will harm our nation's commitment to civil rights and could promote increased anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.
For American Muslims, Islamophobia is a reality. Discrimination at schools, vandalism of mosques and workplace harassment has been rising each year since the 9/11 attacks. Anti-Muslim rhetoric from the likes of radio talk show host Michael Savage and televangelist Pat Robertson is also on the rise.
Unfortunately, our nation's adversaries use Islamophobia as a recruiting tool. Friendly nations put off by this prejudice find it more difficult to work with us.
Both major parties should use their upcoming national conventions to state clearly that Muslims and Islam are part of the diverse U.S. social mosaic.