For many American Muslims the issue of a White House Iftar invite is a slam-dunk: NO. To decline an invite means using the ethical imperative of dissent and disengagement viz. American foreign policy in the occupied lands with majority Muslim populations. For many however it is beheld as more than just a PR exercise -- a genuine ladder to engagement regarding these same policies.
“At this event [Wed July 24 8.30 pm] Secretary of State John Kerry will highlight State Department efforts to reach out in innovative and exciting ways to engage with Muslim communities around the world. The event will reinforce programs that build bridges of understanding and partnership, and celebrate people whose work exemplifies a spirit of cooperation and commitment to change.” -- Notice to the Press, Office of the Spokesperson, Washington, DC.
State Department iftars have become occasions for the wannabe leaders of the Muslim community to gather and affirm their civic commitment to America, as well as for the American leadership to emphasize that they (“we”) are not at war with Islam, and are a tolerant nation.
“Remember, Muslim Americans are Americans. Yes, we should be concerned and have a debate about drone strikes in Yemen and in Pakistan, but those are decisions that Obama made in the context of national security, which includes and benefits our community too. We cannot expect all of Obama’s governance to be made through the filter of our concerns. Obama is not just the President for Muslim Americans, but all Americans, and sometimes we are going to have to agree to disagree. That does not make us any less a part of America and it does not invalidate the very real efforts Obama has made to address our community and include us in the conversation about our life here.”
Those who have previously declined their invites, like Omid Safi have asked Muslim Americans to collectively, politely, and firmly, decline the State Department Ramadan and White House Iftars until the following three measures are taken:
1) The United States immediately abandons the policy of extra-judicial drone attacks in all countries.
2) The United States immediately releases the political prisoners who have been cleared for release at Guantanamo Bay
3) The United States immediately abandons the policy of profiling and surveillance based on race, ethnicity, and religion.
He believes the reason for a boycott is simple: “These policies are an insult to the highest values we as Americans cherish, and they violate the civil liberties and human rights of Muslims in this country and around the world. These boycotts are not simply an exercise in rejection, but an appeal to conscience of all of us to be better than we are right now.”
Further, the general principle of civic engagement, including airing out grievances are not carried out at these symbolic iftar events, rather they belie the corresponding reality in America and beyond.
Closer to home, the Media Review Network has issued an open letter to all invitees to an Iftaar at the US embassy in Johannesburg. In the open letter titled ‘You are judged by the Company you keep’ the MRN says: “The MRN urge you to consider this invitation with care and wisdom.” It goes on to ask the purpose of the iftar: ‘If it is to open dialogue with the Muslim Community, then why the secrecy surrounding the invitations?’
Attendees are often guilty of using these invites to further their own influence and personal careers, never foreign policy. The grim reality however, is that well-intentioned motivations to boycott as a ‘moral’ or ‘social conscience’ is often watered down by our double standards. While we often come down hard when the ‘oppressor’ other extends a hand, we hardly extend the same much-needed loathing and morality toward oppressors within our own religion, in our own countries, and within our own communities. 'To iftar' or 'not to iftar' then becomes less of a question, but more a reason to set and maintain that same standard across all personal and communal activism drives.
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