In a recent iviews.com editorial, I took John McCain to task on his unapologetic stance on referring to his Vietnam War captors as "Gooks". Readers have however, responded overwhelmingly in defense of McCain, making several compelling arguments for Muslims to consider in evaluating him as a candidate. This feedback deserves a response.
John McCain is definitely not your typical Republican. In many ways, he might be better defined as a new-age, centrist conservative than a reformist Republican. His stances on campaign finance reform have indeed set him apart from so many of his contemporaries from both main parties. He has also, from the beginning of his campaign, taken a no-holds-barred approach to presenting his views on any number of issues. It is probably this candid campaign strategy that is most compelling to McCain supporters, Muslim or otherwise.
In addition he has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter, a tough stance on Russian aggression in Chechnya, he supported military action in Kosova and is against abortion except under extreme circumstances. It is easy to see why Muslims might consider him the viable Republican choice to face Democrats this summer.
But let's not forget about his comments on "Rogue State Roll-back." McCain's handlers came up with a really catchy phrase with this one. But in all practicality, it could mean serious repercussions for Muslim countries that comprise an inordinate percentage of nations on the United States' list of "rogue nations". And when push comes to shove, in U.S. military action, we have seen that far too often, it is innocent civilians that suffer not the regimes targeted for pressure.
There's also McCain's support for legislation passed in 1998 that created the Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring in the State Department. With its passage, this legislation basically declared open season on Muslim countries with religious minorities. And who has become public enemy number one in terms of religious persecution? Sudan, where military, social, political and economic factors far outweigh religious persecution as contributing factors to conflict.
And of course Muslims cannot forget that McCain stands in support of both "secret evidence" and other anti-terrorism measures as well as increased flexibility for FBI wiretaps; both of which have dangerous implications for American Muslims.
Come November, the above-mentioned issues will top the list of concerns in the minds of many Muslims. Endorsements coming from American Muslim organizations will most likely focus on these as well. And despite the fact that McCain holds some positions in agreement with American Muslims sensibilities -- such as defense of the traditional family -- it's his take on these critical, lightning-rod issues that directly impact Muslims most at home and abroad that will determine his viability. And unfortunately he currently falls short.
As for McCain's "Gook" comment, that was one instance in which he failed to be sensitive on an issue about which Muslims should ideally feel strongly. I suspect that it was the venom with which I condemned McCain that raised some hackles. To be fair, I will say that in isolation, it was possibly a bit strong of an article. Is McCain a racist? Probably not. Has he made a huge mistake by using a word that packs almost as much derogatory punch as "nigger" or "spic"? Yes, indeed.
And since respect for race and ethnicity is something that ideally sets Muslims apart as a cohesive religious community, it is appropriate for McCain to bear the brunt of harsh criticism; not necessarily for making the comment in the first place, but for failing recognize the offense and apologize for it.
And for those readers who pointed out George Bush's equally offensive decision to speak at Bob Jones University where interracial dating is banned -- don't worry, he's got his coming soon enough.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com