Monthly Archives: June 2008

on obama and muslims: what desi artists are saying

Dear Readers,

The NYC based South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) has a very active listserve. There are five SAWCC messages in my inbox every day, minimum. Posts range from “Anyone know where I can get a good blow dry in Mid-town,” to “One bdrm avail in 3 bdrm Brooklyn apartment, $1400/month,” to, “Anyone have contacts for galleries in India,” to “Call For Submissions-SAWCC 11th Annual Visual Arts Show.” SAWCC is necessary, valiantly pro-art in an era where being an independent artist is both hip and a lonely road. Sometimes, SAWCC can also be confoundingly main stream. A blow dry? $1400 a month for a Brooklyn share?

But for the past two days, the SAWCC listserve has featured a political thread. The topic: Obama distancing himself from Muslims and Islam. The tenor: varied, insightful, bold. Let’s see what folks are saying.


“S” responds to post, “Obama Apologizes to Muslim Women Barred From Sitting Behind Him at Rally.”

S: “you guys are so wrong about Obama being sincere toward Muslim voters. This is pretty much evident that he’s embarrassed to be associated with Muslims.”


“This” being reporter Andrea Elliot’s front page New York Times article, “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama.” Elliot writes about how Keith Ellison, America’s first Muslim congressman, offered to speak on behalf of Obama back in December, during the candidate’s endless handshake of primary season and the state of Iowa. Representative Ellison pulled out all the stops to embrace Obama, arranged a rally and a speaking gig at a mosque and everything. But then he got royally dissed. Obama aides told him to cancel the speaking gigs. Cancel the support. Because, said the aide who visited him at his office in DC, “We have a very tightly wrapped message.”

Two “Muslim women at an Obama rally in February.” Two women in the proverbial back of the bus.

(Photojournalist: Emmanuel Dunand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)


“MR,” a Muslim woman, responds to Obama’s “tightened image.”

MR: “Seriously though, can you blame him? I’m Muslim and honestly I’m not offended.

The reality of this situation is that if he gives even an inch the right will be all over him and develop ridiculous lies to correlate him to terrorists.

We can b**** and moan all we want, but the people we should be blaming for unfair portrayals of Muslims are the terrorists.

I would much rather him tread cautiously during this race and get elected so he can create change from a position of power.”


“SA” agrees.

SA: I do not blame him either. The GOP is waiting, just waiting to pounce. He needs to be pragmatic. Eyes on the Prize folks.


“AH” takes issue with “MA” blaming “terrorists” for anti-Muslim sentiment.

AH: “‘the terrorists’ are to blame for the unfair portrayal of

Those who committed 9/11 were insane psychopaths and complete

But it’s racist politicians, racist media and racist regular
people that are to blame for creating the atmosphere of fear and

The terrorists held out the bait, and they took it. And it
seems, so has Obama.”


“FA” understands Obama distancing himself from Muslims.

FA: I do not have issue with the photo incident either. It’s just too risky at this time and if he needs to play distant publicly from Muslims (while we know he has shared interests at heart) then I am fine with it. I really just want to see this man elected.

Sadly folks, many Muslims have to distance themselves from THEMselves these days in America.

Bless him for having the courage to issue a sincere apology, honestly.


The audacity to ask. The audacity to hope.

I made an amazing meal last night, central feature: the bangin Spanish rice. But I can’t take all the credit, the fresh, organic ingredients added crucial flava. A homemade meal is but a reflection of all that goes into it. The ingredients, the love, the music playing in the background while the cook dances with fridge, sink, counter, stove in the kitchen glow light.

Let’s say Barack Obama does become president of the United States of America. And let’s picture that win as a beautiful, steaming, home-cooked meal. What ingredients is he putting into that meal? Do I taste inclusion for many at the expense of a few? Is this meal truly different from what we’ve been feeding on for the past few decades?

I’d like to believe, as “FA” does, that Obama has shared interests at heart with Muslim people. But it’s simply too early to predict what will actually go down when and if we reach game time. Right now Obama’s “tightened image” campaign is a thorn, a weak link in an otherwise strong campaign.

Obama once referred to America as the “leader of the free world.” As a global leader, what grave hope is he asking of the embattled Muslim diaspora by shunning them now?

And could he ever shun the Muslim diaspora enough to win the Florida vote? Maybe.

The audacity to ask. The audacity to hope.

Stay tuned for more,

Roopa Singh

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Follow Up: Obama Has My Vote, but He Earns My Trust.

Dear Readers,

Fresh off a New York weekend to remember. By day I was at the South Asian Journalist Association convention at CUNY, Columbia, the New York Times, and Mint. The convention was juicy, lots to chew on. It ended with intimacy, some comedy and desi sung R&B. So inspiring, a reflecting pool shining, I rejoiced to gaze. By night I was in Brooklyn homes with poets, young academics, and non-profit defectors. Mehndi, daal-chawal, eating with my hands, sleeveless spades, music for days, a welcoming inside. In between it all, there were bike-rides from Flatbush Ave to Canal Street to Prospect Park for concerts of opera and African hi-life. Brought tears to my eyes, truly, to see humans gathering to music in the golden lined green park.

June 23, 2008: Obama Has My Vote, but He Earns My Trust.

A follow up on my last post regarding Muslim women being asked to leave the backdrop of an Obama speech in Detroit:

After I posted my last blog, a desi organizer with South Asians For Obama, brought an AP article to my attention, “Barack Obama apologizes to Muslim women barred from sitting behind him at a campaign rally.” In it, Obama apologizes and says the actions of these few volunteers do not reflect the true values of his campaign. (Full text below.)

His apology was the right step. Right on point.

And, how are we to integrate this apology with the knowledge that Obama is constantly battling being called Muslim and linked to Islam? The New York Times ran this front page article on Saturday: “Bloomberg, in Florida, Blasts Rumor About Obama.” Reporter Michael Barbaro writes, “Speaking before a crucial constituency in the coming election, Jewish voters, in the pivotal state of Florida, Mr. Bloomberg said that rumors of Mr. Obama secretly being a Muslim represent “wedge politics at its worst, and we have to reject it — loudly, clearly and unequivocally.”

Look, Obama has my vote. Between him and McCain? No question. Obama’s candidacy is historic, a win in so many ways, and he deserves energetic support.

Obama Has My Vote, but He Earns My Trust.

I learn from history. I have enough hope to ask questions and thus, be truly civicly engaged at this stage of the American political project. For me, there’s no other way to go but forward with a discerning eye.

Happy Monday and stay tuned for more from your fav political poet.




Barack Obama apologizes to Muslim women barred from sitting behind him at a campaign rally

Associated Press
Last update: June 19, 2008 – 8:24 PM
Click here to find out more!

DETROIT – Barack Obama personally apologized Thursday to two Detroit-area women who were barred from sitting behind him during a campaign rally earlier this week because they wore Islamic headscarves.
The Democratic presidential candidate released a statement saying he had “reached out” to the women, Shimaa Abdelfadeel and Hebba Aref. “I spoke with Ms. Abdelfadeel, and expressed my deepest apologies for the incident that occurred with volunteers at the event in Detroit,” he said. “The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign. I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background. Our campaign is about bringing people together, and I’m grateful that Ms. Abdelfadeel accepted our apology and I hope Ms. Aref and any who were offended accept my apology as well.”
Aides said Obama left a message for Aref.
Aref said Wednesday that Obama campaign volunteers had invited them to sit behind the podium during a rally Monday for the Illinois senator at Joe Louis Arena. But she said they were told that women wearing hijabs, the traditional Muslim head scarves, couldn’t sit behind the podium — and in front of TV cameras.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

on how obama erased muslim women in detroit

Dear Readers,

At a Monday rally in Detroit, Michigan, a town widely recognized as an Arab-American diasporic hub, the Obama camp made two Muslim women in hijab exit the crowd scene behind Obama’s podium. Obama staff explained that they asked the women to leave the stage because in “this political climate,” it would not be prudent for Obama to be seen on camera with Muslim women in hijab behind him.

I know how the two women feel.

As an Indian-American woman who was asked to remove my “head scarf,” in the United States Supreme Court by the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, I understand the personal and societal impact of having a top governmental official say you don’t look right for the part. The part of 1st class citizen with a full bundle of rights.

The comedienne Margaret Cho once said that ABC television producers told her she was too fat to play herself on the groundbreaking “All American Girl.” Who decides who looks the part of a person with every right to exist? The judicial branch, the legislative branch, and the executive branch. You and me. We all have the opportunity to police each other out of a face or voice. But that doesn’t mean we have to take it.

The Detroit decision begs the question: To what extent, and to what end, will Obama distance himself from Islam?

After I publicized the Rehnquist incident, my inbox was flooded with worldwide voices sharing their similar experiences with xenophobia and exclusion at the hands of the nation-state. The two Muslim women in Detroit, the young women just trying to go to school in France, Ghandi appearing before a judge in South Africa, Margaret Cho, families of victims of police brutality–we are all part of a large network of people who are asked to rise above, and be big in the face of politically powerful smallness.

For more information:

The story broke on And it was mentioned, though not appropriately contextualized, in an article on the front page of today’s New York Times entitled, “Obama’s Campaign Tightens Control of Image and Access.” Links to both below, and a small expert of the original story:

Muslims barred from picture at Obama event

By BEN SMITH | 6/18/08 11:08 AM EST Updated: 6/18/08 3:07 PM EST

Two Muslim women at Barack Obama’s rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate.

The campaign has apologized to the women, both Obama supporters who said they felt betrayed by their treatment at the rally.

Stay tuned for more.



Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,