During my Junior year of high school, I took time off from school for a few weeks to work on a congressional campaign in New York. It was an exciting time to be involved in the political process: After a rough history of race relations in the country, the United States was about to elect its first black president. At our upstate headquarters, we were elated that our country was about to do something special in the context of the nation’s checkered past.
Yet there was an undercurrent that ran from annoying to unnerving.
“Obama is a Muslim!” This phrase was shouted out at political rallies throughout the country. The corporate media largely would debunk this: After all, Obama did attend the church with the crazy and racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Still, a Pew Research poll in October 2008 found that 12 percent of voters thought Obama was a Muslim – this was actually a smaller percentage of individuals than those who think Obama is a Muslim today.
This saddened me greatly: Why are Americans so ignorant and uninformed on this issue? The hate-driven talking heads ranging from Rush Limbaugh to G. Gordon Liddy are surely to blame, as they saturate our televisions and radio stations. Word of mouth among poorly informed voters was also undoubtedly a factor. Simply, many people didn’t know better. Still, I wished more people understood that our potential president was a good Christian man.
But it hit me one day: Why does this matter at all? So what if our president is a Muslim? If he’s Muslim, does that mean he cannot think critically about important issues? If he’s Muslim, does that discount his hard-earned degrees from Columbia and Harvard Law? If he’s Muslim, should he be ineligible to run for president?
I wished the “Is Obama a Muslim?” debate would disappear.
Then again, it’s really not a debate. I often quote the brilliant, laconic phrase by the scholarly ex-senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.” Obama is a Christian. There’s no debate.
The real debate is how the American people view Islam and the Muslim people. The New York Muslim community center controversy – which I’m sure everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock is tired of hearing about – in downtown New York City proved to me what I had hoped was not true: The majority of Americans are completely intolerant of the Muslim faith. With all the rhetoric, which has been flying during this debate, I feel as though people were debating whether it’s appropriate to build an Al Qaeda training center near Ground Zero.
Which brings me to my last point: It’s mostly the media’s fault. The media lets the Newt Gingriches of the world lecture us on Sunday talk shows about how cataclysmic a community center would be in downtown Manhattan. They air constant stories about the controversy as if it were a live stream from Sarah Palin’s Twitter account. Biased polls from right-wing organizations are disseminated without critically examining their sources. It’s really not all Fox News’ fault. It’s a collective fault. And, unfortunately, it won’t change because the media is driven to maximize profits, not information.
Obama is a Muslim sells. Genocide in Darfur doesn’t.
It is often forgotten that in 1996, Robert Rudolph bombed the Atlanta Olympics, killing two and wounding over 150 people, in the name of Christianity. Yet no one began to protest the building of churches. Just as Christianity did not bomb Olympic Park, Islam did not strike on 9/11. Followers of a warped view of religion did.
Undoubtedly, 9/11 was a more significant event, but tell that to the families of the two victims in Atlanta. The two that died were innocent bystanders. If the Olympics come to Chicago or New York, I urge Newt and Rush to protest the construction of any churches nearby, unless they want to be hypocrites.
Obama is a Muslim. “That’s bad!” Tell that to the thousands of Muslims serving in the armed forces. A Muslim peaceful community center is being built near Ground Zero. “That’s bad!” Tell that to the families of the dozens of Muslims who died on 9/11.
I’m going to do America a favor and just outline what they’ve been debating all along: whether it’s OK to be a Muslim and have a place in America. I’ll be happy to have that debate as long as we’re honest about what we’re debating.
Robert Silverstein is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.”