AN INTERFAITH VIEW: Islamophobia and Racism By Lawrence Swaim – Columnist, Southern California InFocus
As many progressive interfaith activists have become aware, there are two libelous chain e-mails about Barack Obama making the rounds. The first suggests that he attends a Christian church that bars white worshippers. The second claims that he is a "sleeper" Muslim agent assigned to destroy America from within. Annenburg Political Fact Check, a project of the Annenburg Public Policy Center, calls both e-mails "appeals to bigotry and fear" that are "sliming Obama."
The first e-mail maintains that Obama is "possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today." It suggests that Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ, won't allow whites to join or attend. This is disputed by Martin E. Marty, a white theologian at the University of Chicago, who in April 2007 rebutted similar smears by Fox News commentators. "My wife and I on occasion attend," he said, "and like all other non-blacks, [we] are enthusiastically welcomed."
The second e-mail amps up the Islamophobia to Wagnerian heights. It states that Obama "takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim," was enrolled in a "Wahabi" school in Indonesia and refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, claiming that "while others place their hands over their hearts, Obama turns his back to the flag and slouches."
All bunk, the APFC says. Some of the smears originated a year ago in Insight Magazine, owned by the same company that owns the The Washington Times. Last month, YNET news reported that Hebrew versions of the e-mails are circulating in Israel, suggesting that the campaign is more than just an afterthought of rogue activists. On Jan. 15, leaders of nine major U.S. Jewish organizations released an open letter denouncing the "hateful e-mails." There is a subliminal message in the campaign to slime Barack Obama. It is not true that he is a Muslim - but the e-mails also imply that American Muslims are inherently subversive. Thus, interfaith activists must be careful in combating them.
Some people may be so anxious to denounce the lies that they play into the e-mails' inherent bigotry. The interfaith response should probably go something like this: "The e-mails are false, because Obama is a professing Christian. But this smear campaign attempts to create a negative image of Islam for political reasons. We should judge politicians by their policies and character rather than their religion. And we must always reject religious bigotry, because it would destroy the American way of life." Some versions of the Islamophobic e-mails promote a "Manchurian candidate" theme. This refers to a classic Hollywood film from the 1950s about a soldier who is captured by the North Koreans and brainwashed. He is "programmed" to assassinate U.S. leaders when he sees the Queen of Hearts in a deck of cards - but the plan goes awry when he sees a woman at a costume party wearing a Queen of Hearts costume. (Interestingly, rightwing politicians are ultimately exposed as cooperating with the Communists in the plot.) Washington insiders are not above using gutter politics to defeat new faces and new ideas - and issues of gender, race and religion abound in this election.
The slurs against Obama tend to use Islamophobia in tandem with racist stereotypes, portraying both African-Americans and Muslims as outsiders who threaten American values. In this case, as in many others, the hate campaign against Barack Obama demonstrates that religious bigotry is often a continuation of racism by other means.