By Ahmed Soliman
The recent controversy over the New Yorker magazine cover which satirized allegations of Barack Obama as a terrorist has seemingly helped those they wished to satirize. Anyone who would try to falsely accuse Barack Obama of being a Taliban sympathizer is usually among the people who support John McCain for president. And although John McCain has condemned the magazine cover, it has helped his candidacy by bringing the public discourse back to an issue polls show he has an edge on: national security.
So the question that arises, like the more pertinent sidebar to the debacle of the New Yorker magazine's cover, is: Who will keep the United States safer in this post-9/11 world, Barack Obama or John McCain? Both candidates argue that they will keep this country safer. But how they answer that question matters also. On his website, John McCain states that he is “fighting violent extremists and terrorist tactics.”
There is, however, one problem with John McCain’s fight: There is nothing “Islamic” about terrorism.
Using such a term is just as silly as using the term "Christian burglar" when debating the issue of crime, or "Christian terrorist" when referring to Timothy McVeigh, or those who have blown up abortion clinics here in the United States.
While it's true that those examples differ in the sense that a burglar does not associate his actions with the Christian faith, it's also true that the Islamic label some terrorists use is an intentionally false one, engineered to win support among the people with the use of a popular -- albeit fraudulent -- brand name.
It is precisely because some terrorists are fraudulently labeling their violence with the name "Islam" that politicians must refrain from adopting their marketing scheme with terms like "Islamic terrorist." To do so is to fall into the trap of the terrorists whose method of operation has nothing to do with Islam, and yet are successful in getting public figures to adopt and spread their propaganda.
"Those engaged in such heinous [terrorist] acts know that unless they pair it up with something that's really positive and invokes strong emotions from people, they would not be able to garner support from anyone," said Afsheen Shamsi, the community relations director for New Jersey's chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "For [U.S.] political leaders to also constantly put those terms together creates confusion in the minds of the general public."
Indeed, after the unprecedented support and compassion the people of the Middle East were feeling for the United States during the September 11 attacks, politicians such as John McCain and President Bush have managed to squander all of that with their rhetoric regarding the war on terror as a crusade, and terms like "Islamic fascism." And let’s not forget the recent “joke” by McCain when asked about the large amount of cigarettes being exported to Iran: “Maybe that’s our way of killing them off,” said McCain. Bush's unprovoked invasion of Iraq, supported by McCain, also furthered the image that America is out hunting for Muslims.
The world needs some healing right now with the Muslim and Arab world. We must win over their hearts and minds if we are going to truly secure the United States. But that will never happen so long as the Muslim world is hearing politicians like McCain put the words "Islamic" and "terrorist" together in the same sentence.
The proper use of language is very important in the delicate and strategic art of diplomacy, and if McCain does not understand that, then he has no right to believe that he is the most qualified candidate to lead our country during this pivotal point in time on the world stage. And more importantly, we have little reason to vote for him.
-- Ahmed Soliman is a veteran television and print journalist and commentator in the United States, and an international lecturer on Arab-American and Muslim issues.
Source: Middle East Online