Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From the NYT's: religious Prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice.

I'm going to post Kristof's article here.
The Push to ‘Otherize’ Obama
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Here’s a sad monument to the sleaziness of this presidential campaign: Almost one-third of voters “know” that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be.

In short, the political campaign to transform Mr. Obama into a Muslim is succeeding. The real loser as that happens isn’t just Mr. Obama, but our entire political process.

A Pew Research Center survey released a few days ago found that only half of Americans correctly know that Mr. Obama is a Christian. Meanwhile, 13 percent of registered voters say that he is a Muslim, compared with 12 percent in June and 10 percent in March.

More ominously, a rising share — now 16 percent — say they aren’t sure about his religion because they’ve heard “different things” about it.

When I’ve traveled around the country, particularly to my childhood home in rural Oregon, I’ve been struck by the number of people who ask something like: That Obama — is he really a Christian? Isn’t he a Muslim or something? Didn’t he take his oath of office on the Koran?

In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously.

John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that about 10 percent of Americans believe we may be in the Book of Revelation’s “end times” and are on the lookout for the Antichrist. A constant barrage of e-mail and broadcasts suggest that Mr. Obama just may be it.

The online Red State Shop sells T-shirts, mugs and stickers exploiting the idea. Some shirts and stickers portray a large “O” with horns, above a caption: “The Anti-Christ.”

To his credit, Mr. McCain himself has never raised doubts about Mr. Obama’s religion. But a McCain commercial last month mimicked the words and imagery of the best-selling Christian “Left Behind” book series in ways that would have set off alarm bells among evangelicals nervous about the Antichrist.

Mr. McCain himself is not popular with evangelicals. But they will vote for him if they think the other guy may be on Satan’s side.

In fact, of course, Mr. Obama took his oath on the Bible, not — as the rumors have it — on the Koran. He is far more active in church than John McCain is.

(Just imagine for a moment if it were the black candidate in this election, rather than the white candidate, who was born in Central America, was an indifferent churchgoer, had graduated near the bottom of his university class, had dumped his first wife, had regularly displayed an explosive and profane temper, and had referred to the Pakistani-Iraqi border ...)

What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian.

The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him.

Raising doubts about a candidate based on the religion of his grandfather is toxic and profoundly un-American, cracking the melting pot we emerged from. Someday people will look back at the innuendoes about Mr. Obama with the same disgust with which we regard the smears of Al Smith as a Catholic candidate in 1928.

I’m writing in part out of a sense of personal responsibility. Those who suggest that Mr. Obama is a Muslim — as if that in itself were wrong — regularly cite my own columns, especially an interview last year in which I asked him about Islam and his boyhood in Indonesia. In that interview, Mr. Obama praised the Arabic call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset,” and he repeated the opening of it.

This should surprise no one: the call to prayer blasts from mosque loudspeakers five times a day, and Mr. Obama would have had to have been deaf not to learn the words as a child. But critics, like Jerome Corsi, whose book denouncing Mr. Obama, “The Obama Nation,” is No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list, quote from that column to argue that Mr. Obama has mysterious ties to Islam. I feel a particular obligation not to let my own writing be twisted so as to inflame bigotry and xenophobia.

Journalists need to do more than call the play-by-play this election cycle. We also need to blow the whistle on such egregious fouls calculated to undermine the political process and magnify the ugliest prejudices that our nation has done so much to overcome.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and to join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof.



Here I am all..just doing my part to blow the whistle on some ugliness. Discuss amongst yourselves! Thoughts?

22 comments:

James said...

Eileen, this is a brilliant post, absolutly brilliant. I brelive you are correct, too. Almost every day I receive an e-mail about Obama's Muslim faith.

I would take it one step farther and say that "religion" is a mask for all types of hate. Mask your bigotry in religious terms, and the prejudice becomes instantly acceptable.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Nothing new here...religious prejudice and bigotry is a nice and familiar match up...not to forget that when John Kennedy was running for President I remember wild rumors about the POPE running the White House...I think we're facing the same kind of election...Obama will be President by narrow margin and we will ALL FIND OUT there was noting to be AFRAID of regarding Obama's Christian Relgious beliefs (however, with these fundamentalist/dominionist extremist lunatics ravaging the World it's amazing anyone wants ANY participation in ANY religion..one really does need to keep "balance" in their spiritual life, it's so easy to go off the deep end with all this EXTREME acting out and voicing of outright HATE toward "neighbors").

dr.primrose said...

A reminder not to get complacent about California's Proposition 8 -- Backers of California same-sex marriage ban are out-fundraising opponents: The Yes on Prop. 8 campaign has raised $17.8 million, compared to its opponents' $12.4 million.

Leo said...

I'm just an ignorant Brit. Can someone tell me why it would matter if he were a Muslim?

David said...

Hmmm...ugliness and cluelessness from Conservative Evangelicals. Imagine that...

::rolls eyes, despairs about the future of his country::

Good post, E.

The young fogey said...

My answer to the Tartuffery of both sides is: in a religiously neutral (secular in the good sense) constitutional government the president's religion doesn't matter.

rick allen said...

"I'm just an ignorant Brit. Can someone tell me why it would matter if he were a Muslim?"

Same reason that Tony Blair waited to leave office before converting. We all have our prejudices.

The discouraging thing about the "Obama's a Muslim" thing is how easily the "Big Lie" takes hold and won't let go. It makes you despair of democracy when so many people believe things like "Iraq was behind 9/11." The calculating thing about it is that you don't have to fool everyone, or even a majority, only the swing vote in a swing state. Strategically placed rumors in Ohio and Pennsylvania could do it.

I don't doubt that there's a racial side to this. In America, until recently, the most prominent Muslims have been the Black Muslims, whose heterodox Islam has historically embraced a threatening reverse racism and anti-Semitism. If Bush didn't even know the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite when he ran for president, what can we expect of the electorate in general?

Now I don't think that a candidate's religious views are wholly out of bounds. But their relevance only comes into play when policy matters are involved--as they sometimes are. I would think just as poorly of someone who wouldn't vote for a Muslim for any reason as I would of someone who would never vote for a Protestant evangelical or Pentacostal. But how those beliefs bear on policy are surely relevant.

I would not vote for Sarah Palin in a million years--but, I hope, not because she's some sort of Pentacostal or Bible Christian. I hope I am rejecting her because of her lack of experience and the positions she has taken on the most important policy issues, and not because I admittedly think little of those forms of Christianity.

But if, say, she also said that she was convinced that Jesus is coming back within the next three years, I'd think that a legitimate "religious" reason not to vote for her, as I'd prefer a Vice-President looking a little more at the long term. In the absence of those kind of pronouncements in the political arena, those on the left who find her religion "scary" remind me a little too much of those on the right who have the same reaction to Senator Obama's. (With a little luck she may someday leave the teleprompter and we'll find out what she really thinks about something.)

Anonymous said...

I believe that there is a valid religious reason to oppose Sarah Palin; her young-earth creationism renders her unfit.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan documents The 12 lies of Sarah Palin so far....

IT

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr Primrose. Because of the polls, the people opposing Pro8 have gotten complacent. I have had more than one person tell me "bosh, it has no hope of passing, no one's going to vote for it," from safe within their liberal enclaves.

The pro prop-8 forces are gearing up for a final push and are outspending us. We MUST, MUST, MUST keep fighting!

Support the No on Prop 8 campagin!. Now, more than ever!

IT

rick allen said...

"her young-earth creationism"

I'm curious, has that been confirmed? Or is it just discrediting speculation?

Really, not a rhetorical question.

eileen said...

Rick - FWIW, I agree with you - it is in essence, the same prejudice in reverse.

Anonymous said...

She wants creationism taught in science classes, although she has not made it a huge issue.

Creationism is not science. It is religious belief, and therefore has no place in a SCIENCE class. Teach it in religion, philosophy, or policy classes. BUT it is not in any way a science, and teaching it in science classes injects RELIGIOUS beliefs into the classrooom inappropriately.

Now, many scientists perfectly happily believe that God made it all, WITHIN scientific rules. There is no problem with believing with God. The problem is denying the science.

Anyone who wants creationism taught in a SCIENCE class does not understand basic principles of SCIENCE, nor the tenets separating church from state, and therefore is NOT FIT to be President.

IT

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James said...

OT, but, I see that Steven Spielberg has donated 100,000 to the equal marriage side of Prop 8. Good on him.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I hope others will step up, james!

Meanwhile, back on topic--what I find truly scary is the number of people who refuse to hear evidence that Obama is NOT a Muslim. Basically there is no way they will believe he isn't.

This whole race is based on codes about "the other". Somehow, Obama who grew up as the child of a single mom, and who managed to get himself all the way to Harvard law, is the elitist, while "I don't know how many houses I have McCain married to his trophy heiress is the manof the people?

It's remarkable. IT would be impressive if it weren't so frightening.

IT

IT

David said...

Removed a post that claimed Palin "didn't want creationism taught in science classes." Two problems here:

1. The poster didn't back up their claim by citing any reference.

2. While we allow "anonymous" comments, he/she didn't even sign it with a name or nickname. Hard to keep various "anonymouses" straight that way ;)

Sorry "anonymous," no drive-bys allowed. Try harder next time.

JCF said...

Rick,

Another valley activist, Philip Munger, says that Palin also helped push the evangelical drive to take over the Mat-Su Borough school board. "She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'

"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."


and, FWIW

Munger also asked Palin if she truly believed in the End of Days, the doomsday scenario when the Messiah will return. "She looked in my eyes and said, 'Yes, I think I will see Jesus come back to earth in my lifetime.'"

Salon, The Pastor who clashed w- Palin p.2

Re Obama, as Muslim: in 2006, Keith Ellison, an African-American Muslim (I'm guessing, a convert, though I don't know for sure) was elected to Congress, from Minnesota. He did take his oath on the Koran (interestingly, on a Koran that had belonged to that noted anti-American, Thomas Jefferson ;-/).

I wonder how much of the "Obama is a Muslim" lie is due to (too many) white folks' "Blacks all look alike" (and/or "think alike" etc, ad nauseum)

Marc said...

I don't think we need to wait until the future to look at this and be disgusted. It's disgusting enough right now. I think it ought to be stated more specifically: it's not as much matter of trying to "de-Americanize" Obama as it is with all hate and racism an attempt to de-*humanize* him. It's the first rule of warfare and this is a popular sentiment/tactic with the religio-political right-wing. Scary stuff, indeed.

Ann said...

Thanks Eileen - I despair of our country and its votes. I hope against all odds - but still...

Anonymous said...

You are right marc, and it's the same thing that is done against gays, against liberals....and in your own church, it is part and parcel of the conservatives tossing accusations of apostasy and heresy.

IT

rick allen said...

IT and jcf, thanks.

Leo said...

"Same reason that Tony Blair waited to leave office before converting. We all have our prejudices."

I don't think it would have made any difference. We don't seem to take our religion as seriously here.