Writing in the New York Times on 9 March 2008 under the heading "Obama and the Bigots", columnist Nicholas Kristof mentions a new kind of bigotry entering the US Presidential race.
He notes that normally gender is a bigger factor than skin colour with American bigots. However, a new factor is trumping them all - religion. Or in Barack Obama's case, deemed religion.
The whispering campaigns allege that Mr. Obama is a secret Muslim planning to impose Islamic law on the country. Incredibly, he is even accused — in earnest! — of being the Antichrist.Wierd. On a mainstream media outlet like CNN, a talkshow host actually poses a question about the odds that a presidential candidate might be the antichrist. Have Americans lost their collective senses?
Proponents of this theory offer detailed theological explanations for why he is the Antichrist, and the proof is that he claims to be Christian — after all, the Antichrist would say that, wouldn’t he? The rumors circulate enough that Glenn Beck of CNN asked the Rev. John Hagee, a conservative evangelical, what the odds are that Mr. Obama is the Antichrist.
These charges are fanatical, America’s own equivalent of the vicious accusations about Jews that circulate in some Muslim countries. They are less a swipe at one candidate than a calumny against an entire religion. They underscore that for many bigoted Americans in the 21st century, calling someone a Muslim is still a slur.
Believe it or not, Obama isn't the first candidate to have his ancestry (actual and alleged) used against him. Kristof mentions how ...
... the Federalists charged that Thomas Jefferson was “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”But so what is this was Jefferson's ancestry? And who cares about what Obama's ancestry is?
I guess it's best to let Kristof speak for himself ...
... with countless people today spreading scurrilous rumors that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, the most appropriate response is a denial followed by: And so what if he were?If only the German leadership had such broadmindedness in the middle of the 20th century.
A 2007 Gallup poll found that 94 percent of Americans said they would vote for a black candidate for president and 88 percent for a woman. In contrast, a Los Angeles Times poll in 2006 found that only 34 percent of respondents said they could vote for a Muslim for president.
Even if a prejudice is directed to a matter of choice, like religion or long hair, it’s still prejudice. It’s possible to believe that Catholics have every right to be president while opposing a particular Catholic candidate who would ban contraception; likewise, it’s possible to believe that Muslims have every right to hold office without necessarily embracing the candidacy of particular Muslims
who advocate enveloping all women in burkas.
To his credit, Mr. Obama has spoken respectfully of Islam (he told me last year, on the record, that the Muslim call to prayer is “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset”). If he were to go further — “and so what if I were Muslim?” — many Americans would see that as confirmation that he is a Sunni terrorist agent of Al Qaeda who is part of a 9/11 backup plan: If you can’t reach the White House with a hijacked plane, then storm the Oval Office through the ballot box.
This is a case where Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain should take the initiative and denounce the fear-mongering about Mr. Obama as hate speech. The wink-wink references to “Barack Hussein Obama” and lies about his going to a madrassa are the religious equivalent of racial slurs, and Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton should denounce them in the strongest terms. This is their chance to show leadership.
When Mrs. Clinton was asked in a television interview a week ago whether Mr. Obama is a Muslim, she denied it firmly — but then added, most unfortunately, “as far as I know.” To his credit, Mr. McCain scolded a radio host who repeatedly referred to “Barack Hussein Obama” and later called him a Manchurian candidate.
Martin Luther wasn’t a model of tolerance but even he took the position that, “I’d rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.” In this presidential campaign, we should at least aspire to be as open-minded as 16th-century Germans.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
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