If Senator Barack Obama is elected President of the United States of America, the resolute endorsement he got from former Secretary of State (2001-2005) Colin Powell may have contributed in some small — or large — part in swaying undecided Conservative voters to the Obama camp and away from his Republican rival, Senator John McCain.

It is important to acknowledge who or what inspired  Powell to endorse Sen. Obama.

Powell, a highly trained and decorated military officer, said he had been assessing the two candidates and their campaign style in the seven weeks leading up to his endorsement.

He said McCain seemed unsure on how to deal with the current economic crisis in the country. Powell was disappointed in McCain’s selection of Gov. Sarah Pallin as his V.P. He said that while Pallin was a distinguished woman he didn’t believe she was ready to become President.

Obama, Powell said, showed a high level of intellectual curiosity, depth of knowledge and he picked a V.P. in Sen. Joe Biden, a person, Powell believes, that would be ready to lead from day one.

There’s more.

Powell said that he observed that the Republican campaign, had become narrower and narrower while the Democratic campaign was broader and was crossing racial, ethnic and generational lines.

And Powell didn’t leave it there. He felt it was important to give examples. He said that by trying to connect Obama to Bill Ayers and making a one time bit terrorists from the notorious “Weather Underground” a major issue, the McCain campaign was trying to taint Obama by portraying him as a terrorist sympathizer.

Powell said that even senior members of the Republican Party, people he knew and admired, had suggested behind closed doors that Obama was a Muslim.

Obama “is a Christian,” Powell said. “He has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That is not America.”

To make sure that people understand what he is talking about Powell made reference to a black and white photo in the New Yorker magazine of a  mother hugging the headstone of her son’s grave in Arlington Cemetery, Virginia.

“The writing on the headstone didn’t have a Star of David or a Christian Cross, but a Crescent and Star,” observed Powell. The Crescent and Star are symbols Muslims customarily use.

The headstone showed that the soldier had won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star and it gave his date of birth and the date he died.

Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan (February 12, 1987 – August 6, 2007)

Then, without reference to a paper cue, Powell slowly enunciated the soldier’s full name: Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. It was like he was looking right at the headstone when he said it.

With that reference Powell told the nation that Obama’s ability to inspire, his extraordinary style accompanied by his substance and the inclusive nature of his campaign, makes him a “transformational figure” who will be an exceptional President.

Powell’s interview on NBC might have ended there but the media went after the identity of the young soldier.

It turned out that Khan was a 20-year-old soldier from Manahawkin, N.J. , who dreamed from a young age of enlisting in the Army. Friends described him as an all-American boy.

His father said his son joined the military, in part to show his countrymen that not all Muslims are terrorists.

“He was an American soldier first,” said his father. “But he also looked at fighting in this war as fighting for his faith. He was fighting radicalism.”

A month before completing his tour in Iraq Khan was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in August 2007 along with four other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter while searching a house in Baqouba.

As an immigrant I have become accustomed to having people constantly asking me ‘where I am from?’ The fact that you are a minority in North American means you must be from somewhere other than here.

If asked the same question Khan would have to insist that he was from New Jersey. He was born in America.

But if he were asked where his parents are from, the correct answer would be The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. And I am sure he would say it with some degree of pride.

If Americans give Obama victory next week, it may be on account of Powell’s endorsement which depended in large part on a soldier named Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan whose parents migrated from Trinidad to America in the 1980’s and raised their son to be true to his faith and to serve his country with and conviction.

First Published in Trinidad Express on Oct. 31st 2008


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