July 28th, 2014
09:38 AM ET
Opinion by Salam Al-Marayati, special to CNN
(CNN) - Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all met with American Muslims, as they did with most other religious groups.
President Barack Obama, under advice from his aides that association with Muslims is politically damaging, has yet to invite American Muslim organizations and leaders into the Oval Office for substantive discussions on domestic and international policies.
Yes, Muslims from all over the country accepted a White House invitation to attend the Iftar dinner earlier this month with the President to break our fast, to break bread, and to build bridges of understanding.
In Ramadan, a month for spiritual replenishment in the Islamic calendar, an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the world perform an obligatory fast from predawn to sunset for the purpose of purifying one’s soul through prayer and self-sacrifice.
But instead of feeling spiritually uplifted and civically engaged by attending an Islamic celebration in the White House, the Muslim guests were shocked and dismayed when they heard the President say, “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
For Muslims, that talking point is code for whitewashing decades of atrocities committed against the people of Gaza: the kids killed on the Gaza Beach, the civilians bombed in the most densely populated cage in the world, and the attacking of civilians who resort to donkey carts for transportation.
Obama began his presidency conveying aspirations of bridging the divide between the United States and the Muslim world. He needs American Muslims to be a part of that mission. Instead he has continued the unfortunate legacy of excluding of anyone who supports Palestine.
Palestine is a dirty word in Washington and criticizing Israel's policies toward Palestinians is a political taboo.
We can talk about Darfur, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, Iran and every Arab country. We can criticize all of them, along with Russia and China, and call for sanctions on human rights violators. But bringing up Israel's atrocities in the West Bank or Gaza is met with denial and disgust, generating millions of disaffected Americans in the process.
There is more tolerance in Israel for critiquing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza than there is inside the Beltway.
America is our home, and Barack Obama is our president. It is our duty to express our disenchantment and to demand change when the leader of our country is wrong.
The President must acknowledge that we, the American people, are funding the siege of Gaza. The whole world knows that America is giving political cover for the military occupation of Palestinians.
It is time to tell America the truth of our complicity in robbing Palestinians of their human dignity.
Terrorism is evil, and we will continue to partner with the President in countering the rhetoric of ideological religious extremism and to end the scourge of terrorism, not for political gain but out of our sacred duty.
Now, the President needs to acknowledge that occupation is evil, and it is time he recognizes those engaged in nonviolent resistance against the occupation. They are those who live every day through checkpoints, blockades, home demolitions and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Call it an internment camp, a prison - Gaza has become unlivable.
The President must also face a reality: Not a single Muslim serves as a senior policy adviser in the White House or as an under secretary in the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, State or Defense.
There is no Middle East envoy of Muslim background. The President has yet to name a Muslim as ambassador to any of the 50 Muslim-majority countries.
The White House Ramadan dinner cannot be the quota for engagement or enfranchisement.
We cannot give Obama a pass because he has said the right things in regard to his respect for Islam, nor can we release him from accountability out of fear of Republicans.
Muslims represent 4 million to 6 million Americans and include practically every race and socioeconomic level in the United States. They vote and contribute, and they helped Obama win the presidency.
But Obama has gone so far in proving he’s not Muslim that he has excluded Muslims from vital national conversations. We’ll continue to engage his administration to correct this egregious breach of public trust.
We demand that he fulfill his promise for change and be the president we voted for. Otherwise, America will be less American.
Salam Al-Marayati is president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The views expressed in this column belong to Al-Marayati.
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