Of Melians

In a heartening instance of moral clarity, Dan Abrams became one of the first major television commentators to expressly condemn the anti-Muslim incitement coming from the Clinton campaign. When asked whether or not she thought that Senator Obama was a Muslim, Senator Clinton stated that as far as she knew he was not.

Abrams stated that Mrs. Clinton “could have and should have been unequivocal” in her statement. Instead, the Senator has continued to encourage the use of Senator Obama’s Muslim heritage as a smear against him. (To Mrs. Clinton’s credit, she did, rather smugly, state several times that she did not believe that Obama is a Muslim.) A viewer wrote in to the Abram Report, condemning Senator Clinton’s response and calling on the media to “take a moral stand” on the issue of Barack Obama’s religion. Abrams responded by stating that he was doing just that, by stating that it is a “fact that he is not a Muslim.”

My comments are thus:

  1. I would go so far as to condemn the interviewer who asked about Senator Obama’s religion in the first place, for putting a ludicrous rumor back onto the plate and legitimizing rumors spread by bigots and charlatans in the process. Watching the interview, one can see that Clinton’s interrogator (wanted to stir the Muslim issue, but Clinton’s responses seem rather disingenuous, as is usually the case when she denies knowledge about emails or press leaks about Senator Obama’s relationship to Islam.
  2. I would further condemn Mrs. Clinton (though this is not the place of media figures who purport to be “balanced” to do out-rightly, but the media should not perpetuate bigoted rumors such as this one) for facilitating, nurturing, and tolerating this continuous insult against the intelligence of the American people and American Muslims in particular. Her moral legitimacy with respect to civil rights and minority issues on the whole is gravely lacking when she so blatantly embraces religious bigotry in the way that she has. The hypocrisy of her “wink wink” remark should be obvious; the kind of wink-wink bigotry she has at the very least tolerated seems to belong more in 1920 than in a 2008 Democratic primary.
  3. Senator Obama should also be bemoaned for his ultra-defensive stance on his heritage. As a public figure championing “hope,” he has a responsibility to stand against the kind of dirty campaigning that Mrs. Clinton’s camp is putting out there. That he has been so reluctant to take a firm stance on this issue. Aside from merely reassuring Americans that he is not a Muslim, he should be assuring the public that being Muslim is not a crime and should not (and constitutionally does not) disqualify one from the presidency. From his reactions to these attacks, it seems that he is embarrassed of his Muslim background and regards it as a negative thing.
  4. After multiple conversations on this topic with other American Arabs and American Muslims, I am reminded of the Melian Dialogue (from Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, Book V), an affair that will be familiar to students of international relations (and likely political science, as well). In this episode, the Athenians, who are at war with the Spartans, present the people of tiny and neutral Melos with an ultimatum: they can either pay tribute to the Athenians or resist them and be annihilated. The Athenians and Melians go back and forth, with the Melians desperately attempting to convince the Athenians of the benefits resulting from respecting Melian neutrality. The Melians say that sparing them will earn the Athenians more friends in the long run; that the Spartans will intervene on their behalf (“if not for very shame”); that the gods will protect them, and so on. The Athenians reason that the Spartans would not aid the Melians: “The Lacedaemonians, when their own interests or their country’s law are in question, are the worthiest men alive; of their conduct towards others much might be said, but no clearer idea of it could be given than by shortly saying that of all the men we know they are most conspicuous in considering what is agreeable, honourable, and what is expedient [and] just. Such a way of thinking does not promise much for the safety which you now unreasonably count upon.” The Athenians preface their massacre and enslavement of the Melians with the oft quoted maxim: “[Y]ou know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The political geography of Arab and Muslim Americans is not at present such that groups and figures who use associations with their identity and corpus as insults, let alone to make alliance or fidelity to them an unequivocal benefit politically. Unless Arabs and Muslims can make their votes count in the way that other minorities of comparable size have, they will perpetually be Melians. Rapid growth, integration, and acculturation, independent of immigration (and, most importantly, imported religious leaders), should be priorities in the major Arab American communities. The more Arabs there are in important states like California, Texas, Michigan, and New York the more difficult it will become for them to be actively alienated from national dialogues.

2 thoughts on “Of Melians

  1. You don’t get the whole First Amendment ‘freedom of speech’ thing, do you?

    ‘Condemn the interviewer’? ‘Condemn Clinton’? ‘Bemoan Obama’?

    How about we let everybody have a say — from the well-informed and thoughtful to the ignorant and stupid — and we sort it out ourselves?

    Or do you fear that us lesser beings will get it wrong; that is to say, not your way?

  2. I don’t think I said that anyone should be prohibited from saying anything. Nothing in this post conflicts with the First Amendment. There is a reason I wrote that I would do these things as these are my comments.

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