Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arabs Are Decent Family Men Too

By Rayfield A. Waller

I like to think I’m a decent African-American family man just like Barack Obama. So what I saw on October 10 was as breathtaking to me as two blows to the stomach.

The first blow took my breath away: a supporter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain at a McCain rally in Lakeville, Minnesota declared he was afraid to raise his child in an America with Barack Obama as president. “I’m concerned about someone who, you know, cohorts with domestic terrorists such as Ayers…” the gentleman asserted. Though McCain assured the supporter that his Democratic opponent is “a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States”, it was clear a drum beat of negative smear ads by the McCain campaign these past two weeks had achieved the desired effect of demonizing Obama as a ‘terrorist’. McCain has aired half dozen attack ads featuring shadowy images of Obama several shades darker than he actually is, and featuring claims deliberately distorting history to link Obama to Chicago professor, William Ayers, once a member of the radical group, The Weather Underground.

The second blow took what little breath was left in me, filling me with an even deeper disgust than the simple insult of seeing a Black candidate smeared by association. The second blow demonstrated that all Americans need to denounce a deep, subtly and grossly anti-Arab, anti-Muslim atmosphere in America. Proof of just how poisonous McCain’s negative, racist campaign tactics are, came only minutes later when another supporter, a woman this time, stood up in the same crowd to declare, “I can’t trust Obama; I have read about him, and he’s an Arab.” McCain took back the microphone, reassuring her, saying, “No Ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues…”

Now put aside for a moment the reality that federal charges against William Ayers were dropped in the 1970’s due to prosecutorial misconduct and that in fact he is currently a respected University Professor in Chicago. Put aside also the fact that former members of The Weather Underground are contributing, passionately engaged citizens of our democracy. Put aside the fact that not all Republicans are racist, that many feel their party is out of control (I have Republican friends who are dismayed by McCain’s smear tactics). Put aside the fact that Obama was only eight years old when the political activities of The Weather Underground were being widely cheered by many Americans on the left, and put aside the reality that the single proven point of contact between Obama and Ayers was that they served together on a Republican dominated educational committee in Chicago years ago, and that Ayers gave a fundraiser for Obama’ senate campaign; his democratic right as a citizen of the United States. Finally, put aside the fact that McCain is hypocritically borrowing smear tactics from earlier Republican sleaze masters, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, even though the same sleazy tactics were used against McCain by Bush in the 2000 election. Even though McCain now hypocritically apologizes for his supporters’ growing mob mentality while his own ads invite outrages occurring at his rallies such as members of crowds calling for Obama to be ‘killed’, and ‘bombed’, put this aside.

Put all those things aside, any of which can serve to condemn McCain’s mendacity, and we are still left with the worst offense of all; because all the other bad behavior by politicians and the media have been part and parcel of American politics, unfortunately, since the Nixon years. The greatest offense is a disturbingly new element in America—the element of dehumanizing Arabic-American and Muslim-American citizens, and workers, visitors, and guests. All of these have human rights under our constitution (yes, even undocumented workers do; there is no such thing as an ‘illegal alien’, America has undocumented workers, many of whom, the economic record shows, contribute as much as or more to the economy than we so-called ‘native’ citizens).

The greatest offense is that without any apology from McCain for his incredibly insensitive ‘defense’ of Obama, for the second time during this campaign Obama has been called ‘an Arab’, and this has again been treated as a negative thing to be. So far, McCain hasn’t apologized for the implicit racism of suggesting that to be a “decent Family man’ is not to be an Arab. For the second time during this campaign few seem to notice that the greatest slur here is not to my people, African Americans, but to one of America’s fastest growing ethnic and religious communities. If some Americans associate ‘domestic terrorism’ with people of Arabic descent, then McCain’s smear machine fans such embers of hate.

In my opinion, McCain is not through apologizing until he apologizes to Arab men, who, if he simply looked around himself at the America he proposes to lead, he would see are decent family men too. To absently or thoughtlessly suggest otherwise exposes the cultural and ethical bankruptcy at the center of McCain’s now desperate campaign.

Rayfield Waller is on the adjunct Faculty of Wayne State University’s Department of Africana Studies in Detroit, Michigan and is a freelance journalist. More of his journalism can be found at, and at