On Nov. 7 this year–the second day of Ramadan–President Bush hosted an “Iftar” (fast-breaking meal) dinner for ambassadors from member countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and for American Muslim leaders to break fast with him. In his two years as President, Mr. Bush has now personally welcomed Muslims to the White House twice.
And his remarks were well chosen, describing the meaning of Ramadan as “a time of prayer and fasting, contemplation of God’s greatness, and service to those in need. According to Muslim teachings, this season commemorates the revelation of God’s word in the Holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Today this word inspires faithful Muslims to lead lives of honesty and integrity and compassion.”
These are good things, and it would be difficult to find fault with them at face value. But there was one “oversight”: The only news agencies permitted to observe the Nov. 7 Iftar dinner–outside of the regular “pool” of wire service and network representatives who are the full-time recorders of the President’s every public breath and action–were those organized by the Foreign Press Center. No provision was made, nor was any considered, to permit domestic news agencies such as this one to witness this event which most certainly is of interest to millions of Muslims in this country. Was this event for foreign Muslim consumption only? Was there no place at the table for “home grown” members of the Islamic faith?
In that regard, then, of the 70 or more guests of the President, only Imam Warithudeen Mohammed of the Muslim American Society represented the sizeable body of Muslims who are indigenous to, and are the fastest growing religious community in this country.
Was the real message from the White House that the esteem in which Islam is apparently held by Mr. Bush only articulated as a part of the administration’s propaganda war to convince the Muslim world that “the war on terrorism” and the U.S. hostility toward Iraq is not in fact a war against Islam itself?
Was the real message from the White House that the growing body of Muslim converts in this country–most of whom are Black and Latino–are not as authentically Islamic in their eyes as those outside of the country who get their news from agencies that work out of the Foreign Press Center?
Indeed, was the rather tactless treatment by some staff members at the Iftar dinner of Imam Mohammed evidence of White House backsliding to the “bad old days” in early 2001 when two dozen Muslims walked out of a meeting because one of their number was asked by the Secret Service to leave after having first been cleared and admitted?
Many Muslims in this country are suspicious of even kind acts towards them by this president. They cite Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union reports of gross violations of the civil rights of American Muslims during the last 14 months, and the deportation of hundreds of others in the so-called war on terror, apparently for no other reason than because they practice Islam.
Senior White House officials should take heed of these shadows being cast by the insensitive or even cynical behavior of some of their subordinates. Such blunders cloud the right hand of fellowship that was offered during this Holy Ramadan season by President Bush.