Colin Powell condemns the ugliness of the Republican Party

A potentially critical endorsement of Barack Obama includes a poignant and stinging attack on the vile anti-Muslim tactics of "senior" Republicans.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published October 19, 2008 1:52PM (EDT)

(updated below)

I'm anything but a fan of Colin Powell, and have no idea what impact (if any) his Meet the Press endorsement of Obama will have (full video is below), but I was really glad to see him make the following point in explaining why he has rejected McCain's candidacy:

I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said such things as:  "Well,  you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim."  Well, the correct answer is:   he is not a Muslim.  He's a Christian.   He's always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is:  What if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?  The answer is:  No, that's not America.  Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be President?

Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion:  he's a Muslim, and he might be associated with terrorists.  This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Powell went on to say that he "feels strongly" about that point, and cited a photo essay he saw regarding U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan which included a photograph of a mother in Arlington National Cemetary with her head on the tombstone of her 20-year-old son, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star and was killed in Iraq, and the photograph showed the headstone adorned with the "crescent and star of the Islamic faith," and his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim-American (I believe this is the soldier to whom Powell was referring).

There has been much condemnation over the "Obama-is-a-Muslim" line of GOP attack, but almost all of it has been on the ground that the attack is factually false as applied to the Christian Obama, not on the ground that it is a reprehensible and dangerous line of attack even if it were factually true.  Powell bears much of the responsibility, and always will, for the horrific U.S. attack on Iraq (one which, just by the way, resulted in the deaths of at least hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims), but he deserves credit for using the platform he had this morning to go out of his way to make this vital point when doing so was not necessary (and perhaps not even helpful) in advancing the cause of his endorsement of Obama.

That being Muslim or Arab is a mark against someone's character is now so ingrained in our political culture that it is hardly noticed any longer.  When John McCain, at that rally in Minnesota last week, sought to chide his supporter for asserting that Obama is an "Arab," McCain did so by pointing out that, in fact, Obama is a "decent family man" -- as though that proves that he's not "an Arab because "decent family man" is the opposite of "Arab":

Later, another supporter told McCain, "I don't trust Obama...He's an Arab."

McCain stood shaking his head as she spoke, then quickly took the microphone from her.

"No, ma'am," he said. "He's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with." '

It's debatable whether McCain actually intended to express the point that way -- whether he intended to imply that the opposite of "Arab" is "decent family man" and "citizen" -- but regardless of McCain's intent, that was how the point was expressed, and it received little attention.

A major enabling factor in convincing the population to support unnecessary and brutal wars -- and to perceive the "need" for endless expansions of federal surveillance and other police powers -- is the demonization of large groups of people both inside and out of the country.  The Right's ongoing, intense obsession with demonizing Muslims and Arabs is, for that reason, not only repulsive but also quite destructive.  The core of the Republican Party has degenerated into the unrestrained id of its worst impulses, and it was good to see Powell specifically cite (and condemn) those elements as a principal reason why he is turning away from the party he has served for so long, and instead supporting the Democratic nominee.


* * * * * 

On a not entirely unrelated note, the attempt in California to pass a referendum banning same-sex marriage, and thus strip marital rights from hundreds of thousands of citizens who were granted those rights by the California Supreme Court earlier this year, is looking stronger and stronger, largely as a result of huge amounts of out-of-state money from the Mormon Church and other religious fanatical groups which realize that denying same-sex marriage rights to California citizens will set back the cause of marriage equality by years, if not decades.  The campaign in opposition to that pernicious referendum is sorely in need of more funding, and those inclined to donate can do so here.


UPDATE:  In comments, Hasan Z Rahim, a Muslim American, writes:

In the more than two decades that I have been working at various high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, I have never encountered any prejudice at the workplace because of my race or religion. But lately a thought has been steadily creeping into my mind: If I were to run for public office even, say, at the local school board level, would my name become an albatross around my neck?

I have been thinking about this since John McCain and Sarah Palin began encouraging the use of Barack Obama’s middle name – Hussein – in their rallies to suggest that he was the Other, and therefore is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” The mindset of many Republicans unfortunately seem to be this: American Muslims can rise in their profession and shine in their fields, but if they to aspire to high public offices, they must be prevented by any means necessary since they pose a threat of one kind or another to America. The implication is that being a Muslim is somehow un-American, a real show-stopper to running for the presidency. It's a reincarnation of McCarthyism in the 21st century. Does it say anywhere in the U.S. Constitution that even if you are born in America, you cannot run for the presidency if you happen to be a Muslim? You can count on your fingers the number of Muslims holding high public offices in America. One of the most notable is Keith Ellison, a converted Muslim Congressman from Minnesota, who is known not for the legislation that he helps frame and pass but that he is a Muslim who took the oath of office holding a Quran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Against this context, I am heartened by what Colin Powell said in his vigorous endorsement of Obama. As the moving story of the young fallen soldier Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan shows, demonizing an entire faith is unjust and un-American.

He's describing the toxic mentality which the GOP has spawned, which the McCain campaign has attempted to exploit, and which Colin Powell today -- regardless of his motives (which can be questioned) and past sins (which are substantial) -- repudiated in a way that no figure of national political significance has, at least not in such a prominent venue.

Glenn Greenwald

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