Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog archive: Is Obama Muslim? No, but so what?

Which is why the unbottling of our society's worst instincts recently is so troubling. Specifically, the notion that being of Arab descent or being Muslim is some kind of disqualification for being American, for being patriotic, for being President, and the casualness with which national voices and leaders weave those messages into their discourse, is deeply offensive. Yet it should be more offensive to more people than it is.

Simply put, there is a lot of hate and ignorance here today. You hear it in the crowds recently at McCain Palin rallies. It drips from the mouths of pundits like Limbaugh and O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, all nationally prominent and syndicated voices. When Hillary Clinton replies in an interview, when asked about Obama's religion, ""He is not a Muslim as far as I know," she accepts the premise that is being implied. When Giuliani says to thunderous applause, that "the only people you offend when you call it Islamic terrorism is terrorists” he is playing on hate. That is when we have gone off the rails. That is when we have bred a culture of denigration and dehumanization that says that what you can’t say about Blacks or Hispanics or Jews for fear of being labeled racist, bigoted, or anti-Semitic, you can still say about Arabs and Muslims.
“The only people you offend when you call them Black (insert attribute here) are Blacks!”
“The only people you offend when you call them Mexican (insert attribute here) are Mexicans!”
“The only people you offend when you call them Jewish (insert attribute here) are Jews!”

Can you imagine the outcry? And this was not from the lips of some blowhard radio personality. This guy ran for President!

Really, how far off is “nappy headed ho’s” (*cough*Don Imus*cough*) from “towel headed terrorist”. I meant this as a rhetorical question, but then I decided to test Google. I was surprised, and saddened to find that page hit references to Don Imus’s slur (166,000) were actually outnumbered by references "towel headed terrorist" (199,000). So sad.

And it is not a new thing. Dick Armey, when he was House Majority Leader, called for the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, which some people consider to be ethnic cleansing. Glenn Beck, of CNN, in his interview with Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman, asks the Congressman, “"Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." This guy is on CNN. Every flipping night.

And it plays it self out in the ugliest of ways. Forget profiling at the airport, which I can accept (mostly because I have convinced myself that the profile also includes people who fit the profile of the Unabomber, the Anthrax mail guy, Timothy McVeigh, and their ilk, none of whom were Muslim, Arab, or browner than a grocery bag). But when a month ago I was reading outside at Barnes and Nobles, and a car drives by and the passenger throws a sandwich at me and yells “Fuck you sand Nigger,” well, then its personal. Then we have stripped the shame away from society.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened in the Middle East over the past 30 years. First, was economic decline, and a widening gap between ultra rich and poor. The middle class was stressed, and pushed almost to extinction. People felt like their leaders had failed them and abused them. Angry voices in the mob got louder and more organized and whipped crowds into frenzies while railing upon all the outside groups "responsible" for their misery. It happened in Germany, it happened in the Middle East, and it is happening here.

We should be careful when we open Pandora’s box, when we accept bigoted overtones as jocularity.

In Islam, in the Qur’an, we are taught that (to paraphrase), God made us different so that we can learn from each other. "O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honor each other (not that you should despise one another). Indeed the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous." Chapter 49, Verse 13

Maybe we should hope for more Muslims running for President, not fewer.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Amen! Thank you for your thoughtful reflections on the racism and ethnocentrism that plagues America.