Activist Mazen Asbahi: Cowards and patriots

Braver than his accusers

In the aftermath of one of the most visible examples of a political hatchet job against American Muslims – the allegations made against the (now former) Muslim/Arab liaison for the Barack Obama campaign, Mazen Asbahi – one aspect of it all is the hypocrisy exhibited by the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal went out of its way to discredit this politically active volunteer-citizen by putting his name and picture front and center of its online edition (the second page of its print edition), laying bare portions of Asbahi’s resume, and questioning his affiliations as un-patriotic and terroristic. Journal readers must have been comforted to know that the Journal showed all the subtlety of a lynch mob in taking to task one of the most sensitive, peaceful and politically moderate members of the Muslim American community.

The kicker? The Wall Street Journal did so by quoting Washington insiders, who were so powerful and brave that they were given a veil of secrecy. Sure, don’t hesitate to scrutinize every blemish on the professional record of Asbahi, and blow up his picture large enough to show whether a hair is misplaced on his head. But for the people who brought this to light, let’s leave them nameless and faceless to lurk in the shadows, lest some other radically moderate Muslim get some crazy fundamentalist aspiration of actually participating in this democracy of ours.

Bear in mind that anonymity has its place in a democracy, for example, protecting the families of our fearless undercover law enforcement officers in the field. But in the context of volunteering for a political campaign, a newspaper should employ more scrutiny toward its sources. And barring some law enforcement public policy consideration, the newspaper should provide a better explanation than just the position that “someone said so on the internet”.

The heavy-handed Rupert Murdoch-owned Journal did its damage by citing the “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report”, which “broke” this “story” for the security of our nation. The Journal doesn’t say much else about the “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report”, other than that they “raised last week” the “connection” between Asbahi and an individual who served on the board of a trust. The “affiliation”, if you can call it that, lasted 3 weeks. It took place eight years ago.

Who are the individuals behind the “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report”? The Journal tells us they are “a Washington think tank.” For being the people who aspire to shape our national policy, this think tank sure is secretive. A Google search showed nothing of substance about the individuals or groups behind “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report”. The group’s website? Log-in only, with nothing more to say about the group.

The discriminating reader may think to himself: If we start to scrutinize the individuals behind the “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report”, wouldn’t we be taking a step toward ad-hominem attacks? Yet this is exactly what the people behind “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report” did to Mazen.

We’re a nation of laws, not a nation of prejudices. Similarly, our journalism should be based on fact and careful investigation. That means going beyond innuendo and guilt by association and the attendant judgment by the public. A newspaper should hold itself to higher standards than quoting demagogues at face value.

But there’s something even more troubling about the modus operandi of the Journal. Once they received the tip-off from the nameless and faceless “Global Muslim Brotherhood Report”, they became the primary actor this smear campaign. They pushed the issue with the Obama campaign, they published the innuendo, painted a number of mainstream Islamic American institutions with the fundamentalist-terrorist brush, they forced Asbahi’s resignation, and they published the scoop. The Journal didn’t merely report the news. The Journal was the news.

Today we must ask ourselves whether America is safer because the Journal outed and exposed to the world an honest patriot volunteering for a cause he believes in and partaking of democracy which is his right as a concerned citizen. The result was that political participation was extinguished.

As for the sources of the Journal’s hit job, they get to hide behind their cryptic description as “a Washington think tank” and behind a log-in only website, keeping to a great western tradition. After all, the executioners of the Inquisition wore masks, too.

A. Arain is a Chicago professional and freelance writer.

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