So What if Barack Obama Were an Arab? Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

Finally Campbell Brown from CNN has raised a question that must be addressed by the media and instead has been muffled:

So what if Barack Obama (or John McCain for that matter) was an Arab? When did being Arab-American become a disqualifier for seeking the highest office in the land?

Many Arab-Americans following the elections have expressed excitement, as have other Americans, about the prospect of an African-American President because of the profound effect it will have on the hopes and aspirations of their children.

Now they will have to explain this to inquisitive children, or they should.

If we were still waiting for something to convince us that the terms Muslim and Arab are being used as slurs, surely this is it. For many months Arab-Americans and other Americans have warned against the institutionalization of racism against Arabs (and Blacks) in America and as recently as a month ago I dismissed a comment by a famous Arab-American comedian that "the word Arab and Muslim has become a slur and soon will become one of those words you can't say - only Arabs or Muslims themselves will say it, like 'What up my Muslim?'".

Brown puts it simply, "We've all been too quick to accept the idea that calling someone Muslim is a slur."

The incident at the McCain rally has set off a series of retorts among which, the following one is quite direct, addressing the serious threat of mulling over comments like the one made at the rally.

"This exploitation of bigotry and the stoking of racist fires to forward an agenda is reprehensible. This is not only offensive to Arab Americans, but to all Americans. As any ethnic group who has ever been used to scare the electorate knows, this is a dangerous game that, tragically, can get innocent people hurt," says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

Bloggers have reacted quickly and strongly, exposing the deep divisions these statements can create and discussing the dehumanization and deamericanization of Arabs in this election, but few in the mainstream media have allowed enough time and attention on the contentious issue.

The Arab-American vote will be important in five battleground states -Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many Arab-American constituents want these issues to be addressed promptly. If America should have learned one thing from its past it should be the devastating potential of prejudice to poison the progress of our nation.

This election could be an opportunity to progress towards a more tolerant and productive America. Our economy, foreign policy and standard of living are deteriorating sharply, all the more reason to save our social climate from tanking too. Or it could be something much uglier, a sign of division, desperation and powerlessness to come. While some variable may be out of our hands, the hateful use of "Arab" and "Muslim" as a slur (or a pejorative)

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About Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

Ahmed Shihab-Eldin grew up in California, Kuwait, Egypt and Austria. He has most recently worked as a news producer for The New York Times and as a web producer for the PBS international documentary series, Wide Angle. His work has been featured in Frontline/World online, TimeOut, Washington Week and other blogs. He graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where he know teaches a new media skills class. In 2008 Ahmed won a Webby award for a multimedia project called Defining Middle Ground: The Next Generation of Muslim New Yorkers. It can be seen here: His portfolio website can be seen at: His family is originally from Palestine

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