The “Arab” Comment: Let’s Not Forget John McCain Was a Racist War Criminal

I am really confused with regard to the outpour of positive public memories of the late Senator John McCain after news of his death broke. He wasn’t someone who stood for American values, he actually opposed many American people (by pushing forward conservative agenda), especially Asian, Arab, and Middle Eastern Communities. I had to take a minute to re-check his track record after seeing the twitter-verse post so many messages of praise and gratitude for his contributions.

That being said, I am not in the business of speaking ill of the dead, and I have nothing to say about the Senator John McCain’s personal character. However, in the same way he stood unashamed and unbothered as a public figure, affecting the lives of countless individuals across the world, I am only in the position to remember him as such: A man who did some really bad things and wrought havoc on the lives of people like me. This was his political legacy.

Simply put: Senator McCain did not care about communities of color.

We all remember when the late Senator first entered the campaign trail; the infamous moment when, standing at a town hall rally, a woman shouted at him, “I don’t trust Obama, I have read about him. He’s an A-rab.”

To which the Senator responded, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen I just happen to have disagreements with.”

People applauded his comment for years to come as a wonderful display of care towards his then heavily-criticized political opponent. However, to all the Middle Easterners watching, particularly as the US destabilized the Middle East, the response was incredible racist. Instead of deconstructing the woman’s racist claim, or even shying away from her already racialized and islamophobic characterization of Obama as an Arab, McCain used that characterization (“A-rab”) as the evil antithesis of what Obama is: a decent family man. The woman who posed the question might have learned two things that day: that Obama couldn’t possibly be a barbaric Arab because he is a decent family man.

As a Muslim, as a daughter of resilient immigrants, as a woman of color— I don’t know how to mourn the death of Senator John McCain.

McCain’s historic stance in favor of the “War on Islam” increased our military presence and violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, devastating and destabilizing the region and paving the way for insurgent regimes of violence there, including ISIL. In 2007, McCain was a strong advocate of sending “more bombs, guns, and soldiers into” countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. He constantly called the Middle East an “Axis of Evil,” referencing a Beach Boys song called “Barbara Ann,” with lyrics that state:

“You heard of that Beach Boys song, ‘Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran’”

Time and time again, Senator McCain showed us that the lives of Middle Eastern and Arab people did not matter to him. He never saw them as real people, and casual bombings in Iran that could massacre thousands were always just one finger-on-the-trigger away from furthering his agenda against the “Axis of Evil.” The military weapons that ISIS and other militant forces in the Middle East use, were actually directly provided by American forces as they dismantled the government structures leaving the civilians and militias to fend for themselves.

McCain normalized extreme right conversations. In 1983 he voted against the establishment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a National Holiday. All of the sacrifices made by . the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, and all the activists who stood beside him, were dismissed. Even in his later years, he sought to prohibit funding for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, disregarding the pleas and needs of millions of U.S. citizens, despite his recent statements of regret.

In 2003, he took to Twitter (much like our current President) to publicly disrespect Iran, saying, “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week?” referencing a Yahoo! News article with a headline that read: “Iran launches monkey into space.” 

McCain praised Trump on sabotaging the Iranian Nuclear Deal and kept pushing for a war against Iran, even in his later yeas. Let’s not forget that 83% of the time, the late Senator voted alongside the Trump administration; voting against communities of color, Muslims and hard-working Americans. 83% of the time, the Senator voted against American values.

As a Muslim, as a daughter of resilient immigrants, as a woman of color— I don’t know how to mourn the death of Senator John McCain.

At the end of his life, McCain says he realized the war in Iraq was a mistake, a little too late. However, that does not mean we must forget his past, or the legacy that he left behind in all its ugliness; because there are millions abroad who are still living the violent repercussions of that legacy. We didn’t just lose the lives of innocent civilians abroad, we also lost devoted American soldiers in a war that was a “mistake.” 

Many of us won’t forget Senator McCain’s trigger happy politics, and unabashed public racism — how can you mourn a political war criminal?