NEW YORK -- Melody Moezzi and Michelle Obama have three things in common -- a law degree, a desire to see Barack Obama become the next U.S. president and Hula Hoops.
Obama told People magazine recently that Michelle was the “best Hula-Hooper I know.”
Not to be outdone, Moezzi -- a Muslim and an Iranian-American -- took 100 Hula-Hoops and headed to Denver where she spent 6 hours straight hooping on the day before the start of the Democratic National Convention. Then during the actual convention she hosted Hula Hoops for Peace, an outdoor event complete with speakers and panel discussions -- punctuated with lots more hooping of course.
Moezzi, 29, invited Michelle Obama and her family to hoop with her in Denver. Although they did not attend, she is a dedicated Obama supporter.
“I am voting for Obama because I fully believe he is the only candidate who will realistically be able to prevent further destruction, death and suffering in both of my homelands,” she told me from Denver via her iPhone during a break in her hooping.
“As an Iranian and as an American this is not just political for me, it's personal. I have lots of family in Iran, so I can't afford to analyze my vote beyond ‘How can I use my vote to save more lives and end the further suffering of my people, including Iranians, Americans, Muslims, women, and my generation?’”
Born in Chicago and raised in Ohio, Moezzi was one of many young American Muslims pushed into activism after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Horrified by both the hijacking of their religion and the growing fear and ignorance of Islam by their fellow Americans, these young Muslims realize they have to step into a spotlight that their parents -- especially those who had emigrated to the United States -- rarely seek. Moezzi’s 2007 book, War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims, paints a picture of some of those young people.
Many young American Muslims were hooked by Obama’s historic speech at the 2004 DNC in Boston. A record number of Muslims turned out at that convention. And although not all Muslims are Arab or vice versa, many were moved to tears at the point of Obama’s 2004 speech when he was talking about our social connectedness:
“If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process that threatens my civil liberties.”
Those words gave me goose bumps. “He gets it!” I remember thinking. He understands what it is like to be demonized, singled out.
So I understand why 50 American Muslim delegates and alternates went to Denver to attend the DNC and support Obama, despite the sting of hearing their faith being used to smear him as a ‘secret Muslim’.
“I feel torn because though he supports issues I believe in…I don't feel he supports me as an American who happens to be a Muslim,” Salaeha Shariff told me from Denver, referring to what she feels is the Obama campaign's lack of dialogue and willingness to engage Muslims.
She remains a supporter, nevertheless, describing Obama as “a visionary politician (who) truly has the potential to make significant impact for Americans both at home and abroad, and invigorate the average American and give them hope for America's future.”
In Denver, Shariff attended the launch of the first American Muslim Democratic Caucus which she said was a first step on a long road.
The caucus excites Hussein Rashid because it gives Muslims -- especially those of immigrant descent -- a chance to focus on domestic politics.
“I do wish that Muslims stop identifying and get identified with single, political issues that have little to do with our life in the U.S., such as Kashmir or Palestine,” said Rashid, who “loves Obama because he continues to represent what is best about the American ideal.”
“The American Muslim community needs to wake up and find common ground and work with Sen. Obama. We have too much at stake to let Sen. McCain win the election and not get involved in these last two months before the vote,” another Obama supporter told me. “American Muslims need to stop whining and complaining and start engaging with Sen. Obama so we can work to resolve so many issues.”
In 2004, Obama’s moving elegy to that which connects us all mesmerized me. Watching his acceptance speech last night, and marveling at the history being made with every word he spoke, I wished I’d applied for citizenship already so that I could vote come November.
But like so many other Muslims in the United States, I too was torn. In between frantic nodding at his pledge to fight for social justice and for better education for children -- issues close to my heart as a Muslim -- I kept wishing he’d give me goose bumps all over again. By remembering us.
Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.
Copyright ©2008 Mona Eltahawy – distributed by Agence Global