Obama’s White House Kept List of Muslims For Top Jobs

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The Obama administration collected lists of Muslim candidates for jobs in the Obama administration, according to previously unseen emails sent to the chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign John Podesta and released by Wikileaks. Podesta was also a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

Dating from 2008, the email refers to a list of Muslim leaders vetted for top jobs within the administration (it does not provide the list). The author, Preeta Bansal, adds three points by way of explanation, the first of which is as follows:

In the candidates for top jobs, I excluded those with some Arab American background but who are not Muslim (e.g., George Mitchell). Many Lebanese Americans, for example, are Christian. In the last list (of outside boards/commissions), most who are listed appear to be Muslim American, except that a handful (where noted) may be Arab American but of uncertain religion (esp. Christian).”

You can read the full email here.

This paragraph has drawn the ire of commentators who see this as evidence that Obama’s White House was deliberately excluding Christians from senior positions. While that does seem to have been the case where this list is concerned, we do not know who, if anyone, was hired on the basis of this list.

In an ideal world, all candidates for government positions would be selected with absolutely no attention paid to their religion. Yet in today’s world, governments are under intense pressure to present to their publics a diverse staff representative of the populations they rule.

Having such a staff is also very useful to a government, since it means that those in senior positions will have a range of experiences and knowledge sets, thus broadening the government’s capacity to rule effectively and justly.

It is difficult to acquire such staffing by accident, especially given the historic injustices which have bedeviled the creation of an equal and meritocratic society, not only in America but worldwide. Therefore sometimes in order to gain a representative government, those selecting for jobs have to actively search out those of different backgrounds and take active steps to ensure they are represented in the government.

This is of course assuming that the candidates will be of the highest caliber and are able to perform their functions. Promoting people who are underqualified simply because of their background is foolishly shortsighted, since they will soon prove unequal to the task and cause resentment.

Furthermore, if the list is specifically designed for the exclusion of Christians from Muslim majority countries, rather than to increase representation of Muslims, this is unacceptable. We do not know, however, the details surrounding the list and its compilation. We don’t know what jobs it covered, whether anyone was hired and whether separate lists promoting other minorities such as Middle Eastern Christians was ever created or used.

Last year Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau was widely praised in progressive circles internationally for his appointment of a cabinet that was not only equally split between the genders, but also was representative of Canada’s diverse ethnicities.

There is no way that happened by accident.

Given that the government has the opportunity to tap pretty much whoever it wants from the best in the country for top jobs, there is no reason governments should not also take the opportunity to make sure those positions are representative of the population at large.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org