The pros and cons of White House iftars in the Obama era

An interesting debate is going on in Muslim corners of the Blogosphere and social media over the ethics and merits of Muslims attending White House iftars in the Obama era, with its militarism and lawlessness .

As is usually the case, Sheila Musaji has already neatly laid out the issues  involved in The American Muslim, so I’ll just send you there for the details.

I happen to consider both Omid and Shahed dear friends, but I find myself agreeing with Omid here.

At the same time, I don’t have illusions about Muslim Americans’ influence under the circumstances. Many on the other side of the debate would no doubt argue that boycotting would reduce our already very modest influence within the government, and perhaps embarrass and/or alienate the few friends we have left these days in Washington. And they’d be right, at least from the conventional standpoint of Beltway politicking and jockeying for influence.

I don’t know whether in the grand scheme of things a handful of Muslims getting “access” with political leaders and top officials outweighs the harm done by Muslims offering an undeserved fig leaf to this buck-naked administration. I rather suspect their loyalty and willingness to give the government the benefit of the doubt even in the face of mountains of reasons not to will be rewarded with about the same amount of gratitude and political support that unions and organized labor have enjoyed after they likewise actively supported Obama despite a record of doing next to nothing for them or workers in general. Which is to say not only no support, but outright betrayal. (But then organized labor has doesn’t have many other options, either. Like the Muslim community, it finds itself between a rock and hard place, having to choose between Republicans who are ideologically committed to its destruction in order to give corporations absolute control of the workplace and Democrats who don’t share that white-hot hostility but who know where the real money is to be had for election campaigns–from corporations–and who operate accordingly.)

Perhaps, as a result of participating Muslims are occasionally able to participate in policy debates behind the scenes and occasionally makes a policy a smidgen less cynical and counterproductive. Maybe things would indeed be much worse if no Muslims had a seat at the proverbial table (albeit one by the kitchen door). I doubt it, but one can make the argument.

In any case, we don’t have a wealth of options in this political landscape.

But playing by the Beltway’s rules doesn’t get you far when you’re utterly outgunned, and by multiple factions. In that situation, I believe your only chance to win the day is to change the rules of the game by challenging the dominant discourse by forcing the public to grapple with the complexities and moral ambiguities of government policies that are being swept under the rug by the powers that be. You have to scream bloody murder so the numbed body politic notices something is terribly wrong. Quixotic calls for boycotts, like ones for secession or reparations, get attention and spark debate, which is desperately needed.

The ironic thing is that I think Omid is going easy on Obama in an important way. As I fast during Ramadan, I am acutely conscious of the many people in this country who are struggling to simply survive, the many children who essentially do this all year round thanks to savagely inhumane social policy priorities which Obama has done little to challenge and which he is in many cases choosing to exacerbate, for all his flowery rhetoric. I’m also acutely aware of how Obama eagerly supported the sinister undemocratic forces that almost destroyed our economy in recent years, decimating the tax base upon which government services depend, and then put these dangerous incompetents in charge of repairing the damage they done (and without so much as a slap on the wrist).

As angry and outraged as I am by this administration’s stunningly cynical and blatantly unconstitutional policies in the so-called War on Terror, at home as well as abroad, there are at least arguably extenuating circumstances in some of those cases. Policymakers face  thorny dilemmas in those domains and their vision is often clouded by ignorance, fear and sensationalism about Muslim world thanks to our abysmal MSM. In the domestic economic policy arena, however, I think it’s a lot harder to rationalize Obama’ endless betrayals, and the human toll of his war on behalf of the One Percent against this nation’s already battered poor and working classes is staggering, and intensifying every day. That’s ample–perhaps even better–reason to skip his iftar, if you ask me.

My customary sheepish apologies and excuses for falling off the face of the Earth. I vow to make amends.


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