31 October 2003

Look who's not coming to dinner

Mightily embarrassed by the controversy raging over the recently-publicized anti-Islamic views of the US general in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, administration officials no doubt were looking for ways to mitigate the damage.

But a denunciation of the White House event by a number of national US Muslim organizations just hours before it took place received more attention in the media than the dinner itself, blunting whatever favorable impact Bush had hoped the gesture might make.

'It seems that the only time this administration wants to meet with us is for photo opportunities, not to hear our concerns about policies here at home and abroad,' Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, said at the National Press Club.

He and the leaders of several other Muslim organizations held their own Iftaar dinner across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park.

The incident spoke volumes about the growing anger felt by US Muslims, a fast-growing and increasingly politicized minority of as many as 5 million citizens, towards the Bush administration.

That Bush's 'war on terrorism' and his almost total backing for the right-wing policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has alienated Muslims abroad, especially in the Arab world, has already been well established by polling data and media coverage.

Indeed, on his recent trip to Asia, Bush himself emerged from a meeting with top Muslim clerics in Bali, Indonesia clearly taken aback by what he had just heard. 'Do they really believe that we think all Muslims are terrorists?' the president was heard asking his aides.

The Indonesians had reportedly pressed him about US intentions in the 'war on terrorism', as well as his support for Israel in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. But they were also provoked by reports about the incandescent comments of Lieutenant-General William 'Jerry' Boykin, Bush's undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the Pentagon's man in charge of tracking down high-profile targets in the anti-terrorist campaign.

Yes, Mr President, Muslims do judge you by what you do, not what you say. That's what happens when you push who-we-are-not-what-we-do rhetoric, and condemn Mahathir while keeping Boykin.

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