Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Muslim Writer's "Open Letter to Obama"

Read this (mostly) great "Open letter to Obama" by Aijaz Zaka Syed.

FYI, I've emailed his newspaper the following response:

I greatly enjoyed reading Aijaz Zaka Syed's beautifully stated open letter to President-Elect Obama. But one sentence disappointed me: "A Jewish chief of staff doesn’t necessarily mean you are anti-Arab or anti-Muslim."

The word "necessarily" implies that having Jewish chief of staff does at least increase the likelihood of infection with such sentiment. But it's just not so. How did we reach a point where it's assumed that merely having a Jewish person around stacks the deck against Arabs and Muslims?

I'm Jewish. And I have many Muslim friends, I love Arabic (and, for that matter, Berber, Pakistani, and Indonesian) music, I revere Kebir and Rumi, and, as a food writer, I deeply appreciate a great plate of foul madamas, baby camel, dum aloo or Palestinian kunefeh. The actions of crazy Israeli hawks anger and embarrass me, much as the actions of crazy Muslim hawks surely anger and embarrass the majority of your readers. After 9/11, I launched a campaign urging Americans to eat in Muslim-owned restaurants. Seeing the bigotry and discrimination ahead, it anguished me that these good people might lose their livelihoods as well as their feeling of being warmly at home in the American melting pot. We human beings never learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. It's our pivotal flaw as a species.

If the influence of Obama's chief of staff concerns Muslims, it may (or may not) be because Mr. Rahm happens to be avidly pro-Israel, but not because he's Jewish. Many non-Jews are avidly pro-Israel...and many Jews disapprove of Israeli actions. But in any case, to be Jewish is not to be anti-Muslim! And I certainly hope the reverse is true, too!

I'm reminded of another well-intentioned sentence uttered during our recent campaign. I cringed for days after someone in a crowd spat out the accusation that Obama is "a Muslim" and was corrected by McCain, who replied "No, ma'am, He's a decent, family man."

McCain's intention was conciliatory (and, in light of the roiling invective, conciliation was most welcome). And I doubt John McCain really believes Muslims can't be decent family men, just as I'm sure Mr. Syed didn't mean to imply that Jews can't respect Muslims. I appreciated the conciliatory intention behind his words, even if they conveyed an unfortunate and unintended assumption.

But please know that if 95% of Jews could blink their eyes and have every Muslim be deliriously happy, healthy, and prosperous, they wouldn't hesitate to do so. And many of us would be willing to work harder than just blinking!

As for the hateful 5%? Every group has a few of those. But we all know their tricks by now. And the good, tolerant majority of any group has more in common with the good, tolerant majority of other groups than they do with their own hateful 5%. Every kind-hearted Muslim is my brother or sister. And we're a huge and powerful family.

Jim Leff

Update: I've not heard back from either newspaper, so I guess my letter won't be published.

1 comment:

Jon said...

Great letter. I'm 100% with you on this one.

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