Just as Muslim Americans had despaired that anyone in the Republican Party would speak out against the brazenly bigoted statements of its current and former candidates, comes senator McCain's unexpected defense of Huma Abedin.
For those who are not familiar with the incident Huma Abedin is a close associate of Hillary Clinton and is currently her deputy chief of staff. Abedin was accused by Michele Bachman and four other Republican congressmen of somehow being part of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to influence US foreign policy. They accused her family members including her father of being Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers. Abedin's father has been dead for twenty years and was well known scholar and neither he nor any of the other family members have any connection to Muslim Brotherhood. Abedin's crime appears to be that she is a Muslim in a relatively high position in the administration. Abedin's only brush with notoriety was when her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner, was caught texting vulgar pictures of himself.
The Bachman accusations had all the makings of a McCarthy style slander. To the surprise of many and admiration of Muslim Americans McCain decided to challenge Bachman's wild accusations. He called the allegations "an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman." "-- I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person's character, reputation, and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness. It is for that reason that I rise today to speak in defense of Huma Abedin" he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
This inspiring defense may have given Speaker Bohner the courage to speak up. "I don't know Huma" Bohner told reporters "but from everything I do know of her, she has a sterling character." "And I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous."
Other Republican leaders of prominence added their voices of condemnation. Former New Jersey GOP Gov. Christine Todd Whitman wrote referring to the McCarthy era that "the sort of unfounded attack unleashed by Congresswoman Bachmann and her [colleagues] brings back painful memories of a low point in our history."
Even Ed Rollins, her former presidential campaign manager, noted that Bachmann has "difficulty with her facts;" this may be the understatement of the year.
Prior to this incident candidates running for Republican Presidency were falling over each other in bashing Muslims and would get away with any challenge to their statements.
When Wolf Blitzer asked former Pennsylvania senator Rick santorum if he had called for profiling of Muslim Americans he had no qualms in owning up to it. Santorum called Sharia law an "existential threat to America." He apparently had not heard Chris Christie the governor of New Jersey when he famously said, "This Shariah law business is crap. It's just crazy."
Herman Cain was singularly offensive when he recalled thanking God that a physician named Dr. Abdallah who was part of his surgical team was not a Muslim. I took it as a personal affront as I am a Muslim American physician.
Gingrich in his self-assigned role of a historian opined that if we do not act "the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren] are my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists." I wonder what he means by the true "nature of America" and who he really thinks will dominate our country in about sixty years; the secular atheist or the radical Islamist? These two groups could not be philosophically farther apart from each other.
Michelle Bachman in response to a question dealing with Muslims in France had commented that cultures are not equal neither are all values are equal; clearly suggesting that Islam has inferior values. She had Islam haters like Gafney and Boykin as her campaign advisors.
Romney, uses terms like Islamic terrorism routinely and repeats ad nauseum that "Jihadism is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today." Recently he has been less strident about criticizing Islam and Muslims and has back pedaled on his statement that he would not have any Muslim in his cabinet. I would have imagined he would be more sensitive to stereotyping than others as Mormons are the subject of religious intolerance that is second only to Muslims.
Muslim Americans have watched this Republican horror show with dread. So the recent responses to the Bachman's reckless slander of Abedin are heart warming
It is possible that the Republican Party officials were biting their tongue because Bachman and others were engaged in a campaign. McCain's bold and ethical stand may have given others the nerve to speak out. Defending Islam and Muslims is the third rail of politics.
It is also possible that this is a case of defending someone who is known while continuing to imagine the rest of the Muslim community in a distorted manner. Sadly this appears to the more likely scenario. McCain himself has been guilty of Muslim bashing in the past. He also co-authored a bill that would allow the President to detain a US citizen without trial or charges for life. This is allegedly designed to fight terrorism; read it as Muslim terrorists.
The current group of Republicans and their right wing supporters appear to be a particularly narrow minded bunch. Their harsh anti-immigration stance is based on xenophobia. The attempt at getting bills passed to require ID for voting effectively disenfranchising poor minorities has echoes of Jim Crow.
Surprisingly Muslim Americans, in spite of the prejudice and profiling they are the target of are still optimistic about their future in the US. In a recent Gallup poll they were the most optimistic of all religious groups surveyed. In an earlier survey when asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims gave the rather unexciting answer that they want "better jobs and security."
In swing states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida there are large blocks of Muslim voters. Obama administration's record in reaching out for Muslim Americans has been good. If Romney hopes to get any share of the Muslim vote he needs to speak up against Islamophobia; that would be also be the ethical thing to do.
Javeed Akhter is a physician and contributing author to the book "The Global Muslim Community at a Crossroads."