FISSURE POINTS ALONG AMERICA’S RELIGIOUS AND RACIAL MOSAIC
This week, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) delivered a speech at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center in which he challenged Americans to take a closer look at race relations in the United States.
Obama’s speech was prompted by the recently released videos of incendiary sermons given by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, to his congregation that were interpreted by many as being divisive. As a presidential candidate who has promoted himself evenhandedly in tone and optimistically in vision, Obama sought to clarify his relationship with Wright, his friend and pastor, but also to re-contextualize the pastor’s comments in the greater scheme of racial inequality in America.
Forward-thinking for its time, this speech marked a critical turning point in contemporary American politics in which a public official spoke candidly about discrimination and prejudices that are more of a reality than most people choose to believe.
Though the groundbreaking speech ended in a persuasive call for unity, his brief remarks about the Israel-Palestine conflict were misplaced in an address that emphasized the importance of diversity.
In rejecting the comments made by Rev. Wright, Obama stated that the pastor’s remarks “expressed a profoundly distorted view of this count…a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
By making this remark, Obama associated hatred and radicalism with Islam, a connection that is offensive and caustic to the Muslim American community. In a post-9/11 world, where law-abiding Muslim Americans are subject to intense scrutiny and who find that their civil liberties are increasingly challenged, it is irresponsible for Obama to link Islam to perversity and hatred.
Such a statement is uncharacteristic for the Senator, a candidate who has based his presidential bid on a platform of hope and unity. Much like race - as Obama discussed - should not be simplified and used to “stereotype and amplify the negative,” neither should religion be the paradigm from which we negatively see the world either at home or abroad. America has already witnessed the failure of that view in Iraq and in the war on terror, the effects of which have been far reaching.
As the presidential race gains more momentum, campaign strategy becomes increasingly critical. The methods of intimidation invoked by special interest groups and strong lobbies in an attempt to compel the candidates into taking stands are unacceptable and render the democratic process askew.
Conversely, the candidates in this electoral cycle must chart a new course for governmental transparency, and must therefore regulate who influences their policy positions while taking care not to compromise healthy debate and discussion that preserves the rights and strengthens the integrity of all Americans.
Let not this transitional moment in American history be wasted on the politics of discord for the sake of winning votes. The U.S. can no longer afford to continue to hold a distorted view of itself or of the world.