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Bloggers React to Obama Volunteers’ Refusal to Seat Muslim Women at Rally

The blogosphere has been erupting with frustration over actions taken by volunteers at an Obama rally in Detroit on Monday. The Associated Press reported that two Muslim women were denied seats directly behind Presidential candidate Barack Obama and in front of TV cameras because of their headscarves. revealed that Hebba Aref and Shimaa Abdelfadeel were told by volunteers that “women wearing hijabs, the traditional Muslim head scarves, couldn’t sit behind the podium” due to “a sensitive political climate.” Internet rumors have greatly contributed to this “sensitive political climate” by claiming that Obama is a Muslim (rumors which his campaign has attempted to stamp out through the online initiative “Fight the Smears”).

So far, nearly 8,000 blogs across the US, and abroad, have commented on the Obama campaign’s “discriminatory” and surprising behavior. Some have been supportive, commenting that Obama is “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.” While other bloggers like Gardens of Sand were more critical, calling Obama “Just as prejudiced as the next guy.” The incident has created a PR nightmare for the Obama campaign, not only making his supporters question his rally cry for “change we can believe in,” but more importantly, it has given his opponents ammo with which to continue censuring him. Conservative bloggers have labeled the incident as “Obama profiling” and “political hypocrisy.” For his part, Obama recently personally apologized to the two women.

Yes, that was an “uh-oh” thing to do. Yet, can we honestly say it was completely unexpected? With all the attacks Obama has received regarding his affiliation to Islam and Muslims in an Islamophobic, post-9/11 world – everything from his middle name, Hussein, to his “tribal” Kenyan Muslim heritage has been under scrutiny – is the “overreaction” of his campaign volunteers really that surprising?

After all, American electoral politics is about more than a candidate’s message, it’s about his image. We have known this since the first televised presidential debates between JFK and Nixon took place in 1960. However, campaigning has “progressed” since then, emphasizing not only candidates’ looks, but the demographic landscape with which they are photographed – a landscape which bloggers have been highly influential in shaping. And as November 2008 draws closer, the candidates – taking a cue from cyberspace critics – continue to be more cautious about including American Muslims in that landscape, a reaction which the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) implored all presidential campaigns to refrain from.

Of the incident, blogger Ebony Mom Politics notes:
“This is the sad political reality of 2008. All things Muslims are viewed with fear. Ever since 9/11 all Muslims have been under a microscope. The crime these women committed was wearing their traditional headgear… A few weeks ago we saw Dunkin Donuts pull a Rachel Ray ad because some conservative bloggers said the scarf she was wearing looked like the garb of radical Muslims. Is this right? No, we are nation of immigrants, but sadly in this season the unspoken sign is no Muslims allowed.”

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