By Ramzy Baroud
Whether Barack Obama is, or at one point, was a Muslim should be a trivial matter in any tolerant, open society, governed by secular, democratic dictates that apply to all, on equal footage, regardless of race, gender or religion.
But, in a society that is taking a turn towards the right, the religious right to be more precise, the matter is anything but inconsequential.
According to estimates, there are anywhere between 1.2 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, eight million of whom are Americans. Islam is the world's second largest religion and according to various claims is the world's fastest growing one.
But Muslims feel threatened, and for good reason. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Muslim communities have been shamelessly branded as the 'enemy' to the point that in mainstream media today, the term 'patriot' is juxtaposed with 'Muslim' as if the two terms are irreconcilable.
The events of 9/11 have indeed politicised faith like no other past event — in a country where faith is already a powerful player in political affairs. Chris Hedges writes: 'Dominionism, born out of a theology known as Christian reconstructionism, seeks to politicise faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians.'
Under these unfortunate circumstances, Obama's faith matters and matters greatly.
The candidate of the Democratic party is fought harshly on the question of his faith, often accused of being a 'closet Muslim' — thus, supposedly, bearing wicked plans to destroy this country from 'within'. His detractors continue to accentuate the claim, knowing fully that they have an audience, large enough to cause the energetic candidate some trouble along the way.
'Summarised, available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practising Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity,' concludes rightwing columnist Daniel Pipes, known for his ardent anti-Muslim views, after a long winded analysis.
Such commentators seem entirely oblivious to the fact that by digging up the 'dirt' of Obama's past, as a third grader in Indonesia, to 'prove' that at one point in his life he was raised a Muslim - thus should be disowned as a candidate of 'change' in America — they compromise on the very nature of tolerance that America should be standing for.
They, although indirectly, envision their alternative view of the future of America, as one ruled by a religious fundamentalist intolerant group that would fight anyone who fails to adhere to their skewed ideology and preferred physical appearance. Also, considering how race and vote were intrinsically linked in individual party's contests, one can conclude that being black, and God-forbid a Muslim, are the antithesis of what these narrow-minded, if not fanatical bunch stand for.
Obama, of course, is violating the very principles that he tirelessness preaches, by responding to 'accusations' of his Muslim heritage as if he warding off an incurable disease. Such claims are being deemed 'smears', 'lies', and according to a debate on MSNBC, Obama declared that he had been 'victimised' by such claims. He has been so tireless and fervent in disproving these so-called 'smears' that his very own religious intolerance and racism has been shamelessly disregarded.
'I've been to the same church — the same Christian church — for almost 20 years,' he told a cheering audience last January. 'I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible.' One of the many pieces of literature distributed by his campaign in past months featured 'photos of Obama praying with the words 'COMMITTED CHRISTIAN' in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president 'guided by his Christian faith' and includes a quote from him saying, 'I believe in the power of prayer,' according to an Associated Press report.
Speaking in a Florida Synagogue, Obama tried to assure his Jewish audience that his name Barack has the same Semitic roots as the Hebrew name 'Baruch'. His supporters contend that the origins of the name are African, not Arabic. Even the clear Arabic roots of Obama's name are now explained based on 'African' and — as of late — 'Semitic' roots. Obama was responding to a member of the audience who exclaimed that he would be more comfortable voting for someone named Barry, not Barack. Instead of lashing out at the man's bigotry, Obama once again, 'fought off rumours' this time re-interpreting his own name.
As for being a Muslim, Obama has spent so much time, energy and resources to fend of the accusations. His latest venture is FighttheSmears.com; the idea behind the new site is to prove once and for all — among other things — that the man is not a Muslim. And now this: 'Two Muslim women who attended Barack Obama's event Monday (June 16) in Detroit were told they couldn't stand behind the candidate, Politico reported. One was told her head covering was an issue, and another was told by an Obama volunteer that for political reasons they didn't want Muslims appearing with him on TV,' reported NPR.
Of course, this is anything but an identity crisis for the savvy Harvard educated politician of 'change.' Obama must've comprehended, and early on, the implicit limits of tolerance in his country, and has decided to concede to the harbingers of racism and bigotry.
It remains to be said, that Obama should have unapologetically responded to the speculations on his religion in a respectful manner — needless to say self-respecting as well. How about this for a response: 'I would have been honoured to be affiliated with the religion of Islam, one that is adhered to by one fourth of humanity, and is the religion of my ancestors and millions of Americans. But I am equally honoured to be a member of a church, to be a Christian, a religion — like all great religions — that has taught me tolerance, peace and equality; principals that I will continue to cherish as long as I live.'
Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle.
June 24, 2008
Source: Khaleej Times