Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama the Christian

(Photo: Wikipedia)

In recent days, "accusations" that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim (as if this were a crime) have emerged again, ahead of the South Carolina primary. These "allegations" first surfaced in anonymous emails, some of which were sent to Jewish organizations. Apparently, those sending them out believed that since all Jews hate Muslims, these revelations would dissuade Jews from voting for Obama - whether in primaries or perhaps in a presidential election. In the wake of these emails, all of the major American Jewish organizations issued a condemnation of the "smear campaign" (see for example this press release by the AJC). What disturbed me at the time was that no one made a point of saying that "although Senator Obama is not a Muslim but a practicing Christian, the implication that a Muslim is not fit to serve as the president of the U.S. is horrifying and goes against the principles of the American constitution."

A few days ago, I saw Obama himself responding directly to the accusations in televised interview aired on CNN's Situation Room. The day before, I had seen him emphasize his belief in Jesus Christ during the debate with his competitors in the Democratic primaries, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. He made a point during that debate of saying that he attends church services and believes in Christianity. During the interview the next day, which may originally have aired on "CBN" (Christian Broadcasting Network), he responded angrily about the smear campaign calling him a crypto-Muslim, something which he found deeply offensive as a sincere Christian. I can certainly understand someone being offended at having their religious beliefs mischaracterized, but again, I found it strange that he was so zealous in distancing himself from the suggestion that he might be a Muslim. Maybe this is the realistic, smart politician thinking. But if Obama couldn't do it, for whatever reasons, then someone else should have stood up and said unequivocally that even if Obama WERE a Muslim, no person's faith qualifies or disqualifies her from running for public office.

Of course, the reality is that for many Americans the faith of a presidential candidate apparently does matter. Mitt Romney's Mormonism is an issue for many evangelical voters. What I find alarming is that Obama's response to the "allegations" might actually reinforce this kind of bigotry. Someone has to stand up to it and show some courage. Why couldn't any of the other candidates say: "I do not think that being Muslim would make a candidate less suited for office than being Christian."


Jeha said...

It makes sense that such "accusations" will be leveled at Barakat Hussein Obama. One should have no illusions that many Americans would still vote on the basis of religion... Having demonized the Husseins of this world, his many supporters in Hollywood are now at pains to unmake their handy work.

Still, on tne the plus side, the fact that a Lieberman or an Obama could be allowed to try and reach the highest office in land says a lot for the United States... Aside from Obama's (lack of) qualifications, people like him are the vanguard that opens the way to a better world.

R said...

Let's face it, Americans are not the only ones to vote on the basis of religion. For many people all over the world religion is an important factor. Can you imagine a Christian or Muslim being Prime Minister of Israel?

In Lebanon political positions are constitutionally assigned according to religion.

In Saudi Arabia you must be a Muslim to be a citizen (let alone vote if there were such a thing).

In Europe (and possibly Canada) an evangelical would never be elected and at the very least would be ridiculed.

So yeah its mudslinging of an anti-muslim type but as you say Jeha, where else could such candidates have a shot.

Amos said...

I don't really understand the upshot of your point, R. You seem to be suggesting that "this is the way the world works" and that we should therefore rest content. This is unacceptable. The notion that a Muslim is unfit for political office is bigotry. It is incumbent upon us to combat such notions. American history shows that things do not have to be this way - Kennedy's election and Lieberman's vice-presidential bid provide good counter-examples.

I don't think comparisons to Saudi or Lebanon are very useful here. As for Israel, I think you will be proven wrong within the next 50 years.

Lastly, Canadian PM Stephen Harper is an evangelical.

Noah K said...

Obama's not going to take a stand on this. His ecumenical, "spiritual" Christianity is part and parcel of his big tent, "post-ideological" strategy. One can poke fun at that, but it's working wonders for the man.
Don't worry, though. I think that if he's the nominee and this stuff is paraded out there by Republicans, the public will instinctively see the ugliness of it and reject it. In the end, in a round about way, we may see this form of political bigotry delegitimated.

Dan said...

I was also outraged by this. First the accusations leveled at Obama that he was a Muslim, as if to say, "Mr. Senator, are you or have you ever been a Muslim?" Then Obama's comprehensive denial without making the crucial qualifier statement, "not that there's anything inherently wrong with that." In this politically correct day and age it's difficult to believe nobody seemed to notice. Imagine, for example the uproar that would have taken place (and justifiably so) if one of the candidates was "accused" of being a Jew, and this were followed by an outright denial of having ever been associated with Judaism.

Equally appalling, although perhaps less shocking, are two thorough Daniel Pipes articles dedicated to the question of Obama's religion -- he clearly spend a lot of time investigating this.

This from a man who for years has argued that radical Islam, not moderate Islam is the problem. Does it get more moderate than Obama?