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COMMENTARY:

Bigotry Trickles Down to Local US Elections

by Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Fear-mongering in the 2008 presidential election is being stoked by the distribution of 28 million copies of a divisive and hate-provoking DVD called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."
With a desperate Republican campaign playing fear-mongering card to prop up John McCain, the bigotry and Islamophobia is filtering down to local politics. Todd Gallinger, a Muslim candidate for Irvine City Council (California), has reported receiving a phoned death threat after being smeared by a council member’s Islamophobic remarks.

Gallinger, a 29-year-old attorney and Muslim convert, told the Los Angeles Times Thursday that a man called his office Tuesday, about three weeks after Councilman Steven Choi spoke at a forum and urged voters not to support Gallinger because he worked for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim civil rights group.

The council, which has 35 offices in the United States and Canada, is "a dangerous Islamic organization," Choi told 150 business leaders. The Times said that although Choi did not name Gallinger, the comment was clearly aimed at the Gallinger, who has done legal work for the council's Southern California chapter in Anaheim.

Gallinger represented CAIR-LA in two class action lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI relating to delayed background checks for naturalization applicants.

Those attending the forum reported that Choi called Gallinger "a born-again Muslim” and questioned if such a person is fit to represent the residents of Irvine.

The Times recalled that last month, retired Irvine Police Lt. Patrick A. Rodgers, who is also running for a seat on the council, sent an e-mail to reporters describing himself as "a conservative American, red, white and blue thru and thru," and invited them to investigate Gallinger. Rodgers called his opponent "at best a terrorist group sympathizer."

And a recent campaign mailer addressed to "Irvine Republicans" accused Gallinger and other Democratic candidates for mayor and City Council of "touting" the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which it described as "a group with terrorist ties."

Opponents who have used Obama’s middle name to label him as Muslim and anti-Semitic are playing a fear-mongering card that has a direct bearing on seven-million-strong American Muslim community.

The Gallinger episode comes at a time when the McCain campaign has notched up attacks on Barak Obama, who is riding an advantage in national opinion polls and in several states that hold the key to the election. Barack Obama’s middle name was attack fodder once again Wednesday when John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin were introduced at a rally in Lehigh, Pa. Before John McCain and Sarah Palin took the stage, William Platt II, the head of the Lehigh County GOP, referred to Obama—not once, but twice—by his full name, as have other opponents who have used Obama’s middle name to label him as Muslim and anti-Semitic. This fear-mongering card that is being played has direct bearing on seven-million-strong American Muslim community.

“The No. 1 most liberal senator in the United States of America was, you guessed it, the 'ambassador of change,' Barack Hussein Obama,” Platt said as the crowd booed.

Last time that reference was made at a McCain event in February, McCain condemned it on stage shortly after. This time McCain didn’t denounce the comments, but campaign spokesman Paul Lindsay issued a statement saying, “We do not condone this inappropriate rhetoric."

At a rally for Palin in Estero, Florida, last week, another speaker used Obama’s middle name. “On Nov. 4,” yelled Lee County [Fla.] Sheriff Mike Scott, “let’s leave Barack Hussein Obama wondering what happened!”

At the same time, the McCain campaign is trying to tie Senator Obama to William Ayers (now 63), a founder of the Weather Underground, a radical left anti-Vietnam War group that bombed the US Capitol and Pentagon in the early 1970s. Mr. Ayers—a University of Illinois at Chicago professor in the College of Education now holding the title of Distinguished Professor—hosted a meeting at his house in 1995 to introduce Senator Obama to neighbors during Obama's first run for the Illinois Senate. The two also served on a non-profit anti-poverty board together.

Citing a New York Times story about Obama-Ayers relationship, Sarah Palin commented during three campaign rallies on October 4 that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists."

In this charged atmosphere, it is not surprising that crowds in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have repeatedly booed Obama and yelled “off with his head,” and at a rally in Florida, where Sarah Palin appeared without Mr. McCain, a man yelled out “kill him!”

On Friday a woman at a meeting held at Lakeville South High School in a suburb of Minneapolis told McCain that she could not trust Obama because he was an “Arab.”

Fear-mongering in the 2008 presidential election is also being stoked by the distribution of 28 million copies of a divisive and hate-provoking DVD called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has been urged to probe the distribution, through mail and bundled in newspaper deliveries, of the anti-Muslim film to homes in presidential election swing states.

The Clarion Fund, a shadowy Israel-based group, is financing the distribution of the hate-filled movie to help the Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, win the presidential election.

Tellingly, McCain and the Republican campaign has not repudiated the controversial DVD when called to do so by the Interfaith Alliance. Both McCain and Obama were asked by the Alliance to “reject the use of religion as a political weapon.”


Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the executive editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective. He may be reached at: asghazali@gmail.com.



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This story was published on October 13, 2008.