BLOG: A Call to Conscience: Boycotting the State Department and White House Ramadan iftars

The State Department is hosting another one of its Ramadan iftars tonight. John Kerry is to host the dinner tonight.

President Obama addressing White House iftar gathering.

President Obama addressing White House iftar gathering.

These State Department iftars and the corresponding White House Iftars have become important occasions for the leaders of the Muslim community to gather and affirm their civic commitment to America, as well as for the American political establishment to emphasize that they (“we”) are not at war with Islam, and are a tolerant nation. 

Every year when the list of those who are invited is announced, there is the predictable reaction:  a combination of celebration, jealousy, and condemnation.  Almost always, there are accurate observations that African-American Muslims are vastly underrepresented, and that most of those invited have remained largely silent about the worst of American atrocities. Likewise, those who attend have defended their decision to participate.

A few years ago I received an awkward phone call about one of these iftars. This was shortly after the start of the 2003 war on Iraq.

State Department:  “We would like to invite you to the State Department Iftar.”
Me:   “Thank you for the invitation, I have to decline the invitation.”

State Department:  “Why?”
Me:   “Because you are bombing innocent people in Iraq.”

State Department:  “I don’t appreciate your tone.”
Me:   “I don’t appreciate you bombing innocent people.”

State Department:   [Hangs up]

That was the last State Department iftar that I was invited to, and I do not regret that choice. It was, I believe, the right thing to do to boycott that iftar in solidarity with the innocent people of Iraq. If I have one regret it is that I did not share with the Muslim community more widely my reasons for having turned down that invitation. 

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