Posted by Nadia Aziz on September 23, 2015 in Blog

\Oscar: My parents were Mexican.
Michael: Wow. That is... That is a great story. That's the American Dream right there, right?
Oscar: Thank... Yeah...
Michael: Um, let me ask you, is there a term besides Mexican that you prefer? Something less offensive?

The above scene from the second episode of NBC’s The Office (US) takes place when Michael Scott, dissatisfied with a diversity consultant’s seminar decides to hold his own racial sensitivity training, “Diversity Day – Take 2.”

“Let me ask you, is there a term besides Mexican that you prefer? Something less offensive?” - This is the line that has been replaying in my mind for the past week as politicians and media commentators alike seem stumped over how to respond to the anti-Muslim bigotry that is running rampant this election cycle. Watching these comments circle the airwaves would be entertaining but for the fact that we are not living in an episode of The Office – This is actually happening.   

Last week at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, a Donald Trump supporter stated that President Obama is Muslim, that we have a problem in the country called Muslims and then asked, “When can we get rid of ‘em?” Donald Trump’s response failed to challenge the bigotry at the heart of the question – but that is only a small part of the problem.  

As the news cycle and other Presidential candidates largely focused on Mr. Trump’s failure to correct the record about President Obama’s faith (disregarding the appalling passive response that Trump gave about “How to get rid of ‘em.”), calls for Mr. Trump to set the record straight about President Obama being Christian ensued.  

Inherent in these calls is the implicit, or sometimes explicit, claim that being called a “Muslim” is a bad thing. However, that point is missed on the many who have called for Mr. Trump to respond the way Senator John McCain did when he was confronted with a bigoted question on the campaign trail in 2008. 

Responding to a supporter who asserted that then-Senator Obama was an “Arab," Senator McCain responded “No ma’am, he’s a decent, family man, citizen.” Conventional wisdom has been elevating Senator  McCain’s well-intentioned challenge as the appropriate response to bigotry. Pause. News flash: As Oscar Martinez had to tell Michael Scott, “Mexican isn’t offensive.” Neither is “Arab” or “Muslim.”  The answer to bigotry is not ignorance, no matter how well-intentioned. 

Arab Americans and American Muslims take great pride in their communities and the many contributions they have made—from local city councils to serving as members of Congress.

We also have great pride in our younger generation and are concerned about how this toxic national conversation may impact their aspirational goals. So whether it was a high school teacher, a fellow citizen at a Trump rally or presidential candidate Ben Carson declaring he would not support having a Muslim president, we cannot view these unfortunate incidents in a vacuum.

The fact is that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry are part of a prevailing sentiment that the Arab American Institute has been combatting since its founding in 1985.  While the challenges and attitudes have changed since the tragic attacks of 9/11, the persistence of our communities as “the other” remains.

These sentiments have consequences. In a 2014 Arab American Institute poll, we found that 42 percent of the US supports the profiling of Arab Americans and American Muslims by law enforcement. Additionally, a growing percentage of Americans say that they lack confidence in the ability of individuals from either community to perform their duties as Americans should they be appointed to an important government position. 

Sadly, based on how the Republican primary has been run thus far, some seem to think that these bigoted sentiments can also produce votes.

All Americans must work together to ensure they are wrong.

Several in the Republican Party have denounced the anti-Muslim bigotry we have seen thus far, and many others, including the Arab American Institute, have been putting pressure on public officials to stand against bigotry.

It’s not likely that the fake Michael Scott, the “real Donald Trump” or the confused Ben Carson would understand the importance of this campaign, but bigotry has no place in our national dialogue, and we must stand stronger against it.

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