I was in 11th grade learning about German verb forms when the World Trade Center collapsed into rubble a few blocks away. When our tanks rolled into Baghdad, I was finishing up college applications. And for four years as thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians met their untimely deaths, I lived the carefree life of a typical student. And then everything changed. The heavens smiled upon us and we were enveloped in light; in its hour of greatest need, the sinking ship of America had found a savior and his name was Barack Obama.
Ours is the generation that came of age in a post-Sept. 11 world. Seven years of bloody and senseless war have left us all too familiar with the inconsistency of the Bush doctrine and its empty rhetoric of freedom and democracy. Yet today we find ourselves having been swept up in another fantastical paradigm, one that revolves around an unlikely hero with a middle name of Hussein who has come to symbolize that most ephemeral of ideals: hope.
One necessarily wades into dangerous waters by adopting a cynical tone toward the hip and fashionable rock star of modern politics. After all, how can one argue with hope? Obama’s candidacy is certainly rife with symbolism; regardless of whether he wins or loses, he has made history just because of who he is and how far he has come.
But is that enough? How delightful it would have been to witness a bold new type of presidential candidate, someone who spoke truth to power, fought for the dispossessed and stood firm in the face of criticism, bowing before nothing but the truth. But where is that candidate?
As Muslim-Americans, many of us are the children of immigrants, pioneers who came to this country in pursuit of a dream. We have worked diligently to contribute to the moral and economic fabric of this land. Tears came to my eyes as I listened to Obama’s acceptance speech at the convention as he spoke about the lost “promise” of America. The “war on terror” has only served to perpetuate ignorance and bigotry, creating a society where the word Muslim itself has become a slur. Obama showed us a vision of a new future where all would be welcome at the table of human brotherhood — where America would once again be a “city upon a hill.”
Perhaps the greatest indictment of Barack Obama is that he has failed to live up to the promise of Barack Obama.
We thought Obama was one of our own — someone who knew what it felt like to be marginalized and isolated, to be made to feel as if one were a stranger in one’s own land. If anyone could understand the plight of Muslim-Americans in this day and age, we thought it would be him. But what about those young girls, asked to leave an Obama rally because staffers didn’t want the senator to be associated with Muslim girls in hijab? What about the eight million hard-working Muslim-Americans who have had enough of the pervasive atmosphere of ignorance and hate? Where do we fit into Obama’s grand narrative? Long after this campaign is over, we will not soon forget that sickening refrain: “I am not and never have been a Muslim.” Even Colin Powell’s bold and courageous remarks only serve to underscore how miserably Obama has failed — why could it not have been the candidate himself defending the honor and patriotism of Muslim-Americans?
Many Obama supporters might respond, not without some regret, that America isn’t ready for a president like that. They would speak of pragmatism and suggest that the senator has to say and do certain things in order to win the election, but that we shouldn’t lost faith in him. Indeed, the greatest coup of the Obama media machine might be how the notion of “hope” itself has been hijacked — anyone who doesn’t believe in him is accused of being a pessimist, of failing to dream big enough. But in making electing Obama the means as well as the end, perhaps we have lost sight of the big picture. Wasn’t the whole point of Obama that he wasn’t just another politician, that he represented change, that he was something different? Wouldn’t true audacity be in hoping that someone could run for president without having to compromise their ideals – while advocating an end to this Orwellian war and without having to reject their heritage?
Alas, as Election Day draws near, Obama is all we have. But we need not lose hope. One day, we will have a candidate for president who will not be afraid to stand up for all that is right, who will refuse to pander before every other special interest, someone who will restore the glory of our nation. May we all live to see that beautiful day. Until then, the least we can do is keep our terms consistent. Barack Obama might be the lesser of two evils — but that’s all he is. What is dangerous is when someone who is “the lesser of two evils” is marketed as the “last best hope for man” — and when there is no one with the audacity to hope for more.
Hamdan A. Yousuf is a master’s candidate in biostatistics at the University.