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October 24, 2008

Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan

Roy Meachum

Read the name again: Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. General Colin Powell did, carefully. He noticed on the corporal's Arlington Cemetery marble grave marker the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. There were also the crescent moon and the star, sacred to Islam.


Republican George W. Bush's first secretary of state then, and only then, endorsed Barack Obama for president of the United States. That's what the five-star general said to NBC's Tom Brokaw. He reacted to rumors manufactured by the GOP candidate's camp that charged Sen. Obama was a Muslim terrorist. Colin Powell set the record straight – one more time: the Democrat has been a Christian all his life.


Then the general who commanded U.S. and Allied forces in chasing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, in Desert Storm, asked: "Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that's not America."


The Islamic Society of Frederick President Syed Haque pushed up the expectation higher. He called upon his society's members, many well-educated and professionals, to seek public office. Dr. Haque was quoted in The Frederick News-Post: "Why are there no Muslim aldermen, no Muslim councilman, no Muslims at the state level. We have to start somewhere, and we have to go up."


While the local Islamic leader's question was obviously rhetorical, part of the answer could be found elsewhere in that day's Frederick newspaper. Streaming and screaming across Wednesday's front page: OPPONENTS CLASH ON IMMIGRATION.


Frankly, it must have been a very slow night around the newsroom; the facts weren't worth the paper's preeminent position. It could be argued, with no further background, the incident amounted to a piffle.


The story that followed told how members of immigrants rights group CASA de Maryland demonstrated on Winchester Hall's front steps; they voiced strong opposition to a called-for measure to count every immigrant, legal or not, on county school roles. Who was calling for the measure in these days of busted budgets? Winchester Hall's principal purveyor of hate and bigotry – John "Lennie" Thompson.


The commissioner first tried to mine religious and racial prejudice by attacking the Islamic Society's attempt to build a mosque and a school south of Frederick, in the Adamstown area. In the most bizarre political trick I know, holding hearings on the proposed use, Mr. Thompson insisted on sitting until the morning's early hours.


Of course there were mothers and their children present; they wanted the school, as Catholics and others do: to preserve their heritage and their faith. Mr. Thompson abjectly refused any notion to adjourn and resume another time.


Similarly, his form of "cross examination," as it was described to me, drove women to tears. Little kids, kept up way past their bedtimes by the commissioner, slept all over the place. The sadistic hearing disabused any hope the families were in America, with all the implied and explicit rights.


If you weren't around in those days, readers cannot imagine how very much Winchester Hall and all its underlings kowtowed to the non-gentleman from Walkersville. He was the absolute ruler of all he surveyed on East Church Street. He had transferred that control to Frederick Community College for the hearing.


In any event, not invulnerable to Mr. Thompson's "charm and muscle," the then-zoning commission rejected the Islamic Society's proposed use of their property. Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, to her great credit, found a place in the city and helped them through the municipal bureaucracy. Otherwise, no person with any authority moved a muscle to oppose the county's great demagogue. Journalists never count.


In simple fact, until John "Lennie" Thompson takes his stink-pot and moves on, minorities' members must possess a rhino hide; preferably their family and friends, too. Frederick County has yet to reach the estate where all men are equal and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And the current campaign rhetoric says we are not alone in this land of the free and home of the brave.


By my reckoning, this presidential race ranks down with the 19th century's at its worse. According to the former secretary of state, rather than swallow more garbage, Colin Powell stood clear and spoke out in opposition to today's filthy politics. On the way, so to speak, the general endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama.


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