Obamaphobia and Islamophobia Revisited - updated 8/24/10

Sheila Musaji

Posted Aug 24, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Obamaphobia and Islamophobia Revisited

by Sheila Musaji

In an article I wrote while Obama was still the President-elect Attacks on Obama Highlight Racism and Islamophobia I discussed Islamophobia and Obamophobia at length.  It would have been nice if that was now water under the bridge, but today I was sent an email saying “have you seen this?” about a billboard in Colorado, and just this week I saw a disgusting bumper sticker, and it seems as if we are back to the same place we were when that article was written.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised after the reaction to the Muslim Day of Prayer, and the accusations over the National Day of Prayer.

At that time, I wrote:

The tide of Islamophobia in the U.S. has reached tsunami proportions  and not just in the supermarket tabloids.  Government officials who even interact with American Muslim leaders have had their loyalty questioned, and during the campaigning for the Presidential elections many candidates have jumped on the Islamophobia bandwagon

In this Presidential race, the “M” word (Muslim) has become the new “N” word.  Islam has become the new political third rail

I’m uncertain if going after Obama’s Muslim heritage is simply being used as a fortunate excuse to attack the first African-American to have a real chance of becoming President of the U.S. on something other than racial prejudice.  Fortunate because prejudice against Islam and Muslims is currently acceptable where prejudice against African-Americans is no longer acceptable.  This seems to be borne out by the fact that Obama is attacked on both sides - as a “closet Muslim” who attended a radical madrassa as a child and who was sworn in on a Qur’an,  and as a Christian who attends a “racist” church.  All of these are lies, but the fact that a new lie is raised every few days causes doubt to be raised in the minds of ordinary folks.  The fact that whether he is a Christian or a Muslim he still isn’t quite suitable seems to point to racial prejudice.  And, the fact that whatever the religion of his father, he clearly follows the religion of Christianity and yet is being accused of a Muslim connection also points to Islamophobia having taken on racist overtones.  (Daniel Pipes contention that anti-Muslim racism is an oxymoron , and Dennis Prager’s contention that Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism have nothing in common notwithstanding.) The race card is still being played. 

An interesting historical sidenote is that this is not the first time such a “connection” has been misused in American politics.  Back in 1964, William Haddad ran for a congressional seat in New York, and although he was Jewish (and born of Jewish parents), he was attacked because his father had been born in Cairo.  The form of the attack was ”... spreading rumors all over the district that Haddad is an Arab. Not only that; people were sending around anonymous notes about him (“Can you trust an ARAB to fight for the interests of Jews and for Israel?”). Even worse, said Haddad, Farbstein was going about telling folks that Haddad was born an Egyptian, that he got married in the Protestant Episcopal Church and thus was a meshumad (an apostate from Judaism). In the 19th District, where 50% of the voters are Jews, such talk can ruin a politician.”  Does any of this sound familiar?

As I noted in an earlier article: “Barack Obama has been criticized for a lot of things.  He’s not black enough for some - not Christian enough for some.  ...  The ever vigilant Robert Spencer accused him of being a Muslim apostate.  Some have accused him of being a “radical, ideological Muslim”, and some have accused him of being a Muslim who is concealing his true faith.  These are attacks on his perceived connection with Islam , and have nothing to do with his character or the political positions he might hold.”

Barack Obama, a Christian candidate for President who had the “misfortune” of having a Muslim father is taking wave after wave of Islamophobic flak for his “Muslim” connection.

The most recent waves have been a sartorial smear over a photograph and his middle name, and the fact that he doesn’t wear an American flag lapel pin.  The photograph of Obama in Somali dress on a visit to Kenya proves nothing except that all politicians are ready to don local dress when they are traveling.  It only takes a few minutes to turn up hundreds of photos of politicians in various countries doing exactly this.  You can see Sen. Hillary Clinton dressed in a Hijab  -  President Bush in Chinese national dress,  a Peruvian poncho, and participating in a Saudi sword dance -  Laura Bush wearing hijab.  Additionally, both African Christians and Jews wear exactly the same outfit.  Obama’s middle name Hussein is no more sinister that Omar Bradley, or the 14 American Presidents with Semitic names, and in Obama’s case it is just a reference to his grandfather.  The lapel pin thing is just plain silly, however I plan on buying stocks in an American Flag lapel pin company as I am certain they will now become mandatory for everyone involved in politics.

These various claims about Obama have been called “smears”“gutter talk”, mud-slinging, stirring the pot, etc.

Obama has devoted a lot of time to defending himself against these charges that question his religious beliefs and his patriotism.  The gist of this has been - I am not now and never have been a Muslim.  I am a Christian and a patriot.  And, other candidates have apologized for anyone in their campaign who might have intimated that Barak was a Muslim, or have denied being responsible for such statements.

The problem with this defense is that it seems to many American Muslims that what we are not hearing is an apology for the bigotry.  The “defense” of Obama has resulted in the American Muslim community being “thrown under the bus”.  When John Kerry apologized for “insulting” Obama by raising the issue of his Muslim heritage, I wrote“As an American Muslim I believe that Kerry owes the American Muslim community an apology.  In fact, he owes 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide an apology.  Why?  Because, what he is saying in his ‘apology’ to Obama is that referring to a Muslim heritage is “insulting”.  Why is that?  Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim.  Is it an insult to have a Muslim ancestor?  Is it an insult to be a Muslim?  Is it a slur to say someone has a Muslim ancestor?  Is “Muslim” an epithet or swear word?  The fact that an apology is seen as necessary is an insult to Muslims!”

Ali Eteraz summed up the frustration of American Muslims very well:  “I understand that you are in a tough position. Unlike John F. Kennedy, who was looked upon suspiciously for being a Catholic, and then stood up before the American public to remind them that his Catholicism didn’t prevent him from being a good American, you are not being demonized for the religion that you are, but the religion people say that you are secretly. I get the difference and I understand why you do not want to take the extra-step.  However, that’s exactly what makes this matter so much more pernicious, because in the case of JFK, it was his religion that was being demonized, whereas in your case, it is the religion of 2.5 million of your country’s citizens. Yet, rather than putting a stop to this entire culture of paranoia, you have decided to shirk the responsibility of addressing its root causes.  That same JFK – to whom you take great pleasure in being compared – in that same speech that we so clearly remember, said that the politics of suspicion needed to be opposed no matter what religion they were directed against. He said: ” For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim — but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”

This difficulty has also been noted by non-Muslims.  As Lawrence Swaim, Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation has pointed out“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.”

Although to expect Obama himself to defend the American Muslim community (or to reject and denounce this bigotry) is probably too much to ask, as Firas Ahmed pointed outVocal Muslim support for Obama, if it happens, will likely be used as subtext for character attacks against his background and to fuel baseless rumors that he is actually a stealth Islamist who will subvert the establishment after taking power. As Don Imus can attest, racism and bigotry against African Americans is now largely unacceptable in public discourse. However, the same cannot be said of vitriol against Muslims. Attacking Obama for his pseudo-association with Islam is a far safer and more acceptable strategy for right-wing zealots than attacking him for being black. So if Obama has a campaign strategist worth his or her weight, we will never hear any serious public support or defense of Muslims from him or his campaign. For Muslims to demand anything from him simply demonstrates a misunderstanding of reality. Muslim support for Obama is akin to George Bush’s support for democracy in the Middle East. The mere association with the former will undercut the credibility of the latter. It is an analogy that Muslims should understand.

When Umar Lee (a Muslim)  wrote an article entitled “Letter From Obama” which listed all the things Umar wished Obama would have said in response to the Muslim allegations, and posted the letter on his blog,  this letter was circulated widely on the net and in emails without the note at the bottom that it was written by Umar and not Obama, giving the impression that Obama had written the letter, and adding fuel to the fire.  So, we know what would happen if Obama went beyond denying the false allegations to defending the American Muslim community.

However, it is not just Obama who can’t seem to go beyond defending Obama to saying “so what if he was a Muslim”.  Jim Wallis (who has taught at Harvard’s Divinity School and should know better) posted an article on Sojourners - Defending the Facts on Obama’s Faith  in which he said he was ”... going to defend my friend, Barack Obama, from an increasing number of ridiculous and scurrilous attacks on the Internet and in the media.”   In this article he documented Obama’s Christian credentials.  That is all well and good, but still very sad that even someone like Jim Wallis can’t see that calling someone a Muslim shouldn’t be considered a “scurrilous attack”. 

Naomi Klein wrote an article on this subject of speaking out against the bigotry involved in considering Muslim to be a smear, and was called on the carpet by the Obama campaign who noted that some of Obama’s campaign workers had spoken up.  Ms. Klein responded:  “What I am suggesting needs to be said can only be said by the man himself, just as he has taken brave stances against racism directed at Latinos under the guise of fighting illegal immigration. Do not underestimate the message that his silence is sending, not just in the U.S. but around the world.” (Editor: emphasis mine)

I would like to see some strong defense of the American Muslim community, particularly from the Interfaith Community.

A sign (billboard) of the times

Yesterday, a billboard went up in front of a car dealership Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  The billboard says across the top “President or Jihad? has a racist caricature of the President wearing a turban, asks the question “Birth certificate, prove it?” and across the bottom says “Wake up America! Remember Ft. Hood!”  Think Progress notes that“ThinkProgress spoke with Phil Wolf, the owner of the car dealership. He said that the billboard is his personal project because he believes the American people have a right to know the facts about the president:  “I’m probably like a lot of other people that have asked the question, I want to know who our president is. And to date, I don’t think I know, I don’t think a lot of people know, I don’t think it’s ever been asked — answered. [...]”  He went on to say:  “When this Fort Hood massacre occurred, and I saw the response of our Commander in Chief to this unbelievable, politically correct, nonsense — to me it was just enough. And I wanted to bring a little bit more attention to this thing, because to me it just wasn’t getting addressed.”

Fox 31 News reported that in their interview Phil West said:  “Since Fort Hood, I’ve had it,” owner Phil West told FOX 31 News Friday. “You can’t suggest things. You can’t profile. You gotta call a spade a spade.”  “Everything I have read about Mr. Obama points right to the fact that he is a Muslim. And that is the agenda of what Muslim is all about. It’s about anti-American, it’s about anti-Christianity,” West said.” 
The Raw Story reports that  in an interview he also said:  “David Sirota, a local radio host had the owner on the radio this morning and lets just say he wasn’t the brighest [sic] gent ever,” Kos blogger acsguitar opined. “Actually claiming that the words ‘We are a christian nation’ appear in the constitution and that he can point it out.”

Thank God, protestors gathered at the car dealership today. 

A prayer of the times?

This week when I was at the grocery store I saw a car with a fish logo (one symbol of Christianity) on the back, and a bumper sticker that said “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8”.  Here is a picture of what the bumper sticker looks like

When I got home and looked up the Psalm, it turns out that this wasn’t a prayer for our President to have wisdom, or to be successful in leading the country, or even to wish that he would lead the country in a more compassionate direction.

I began looking this up on the internet and found many sites noting this bumper sticker, and now also tee-shirts  with the same message.  And, it is being twittered  and is all over Facebook.  Yet another viral piece of hate mongering.  How, you ask could a prayer be hateful?

Well, one of those selling these, Cafe Press was selling the bumper stickers, then pulled them, then put them back online to purchase again.  They can’t make up their mind if they cross the line into hate.

In some cases those commenting tried to say that this was a benign wish for President Obama’s term of office to only be four years, etc.  However, if you read what the Psalm says in its entirely, and particularly the verses that immediately follow 109:8 it is obvious that this is a prayer for his death.  That is the only that his wife would be widowed or his children be left wandering beggar orphans.

Here is Psalm 109:8 to

8 May his days be few;
    may another take his place of leadership.

9 May his children be fatherless
    and his wife a widow.

10 May his children be wandering beggars;
    may they be driven from their ruined homes.

Look it up yourself.  The entire Chapter, all 31 verses is an imprecatory prayer, and some pretty nasty stuff.  For anyone to attempt to say this is not a serious threat against the President of the United States is pretty naive.

Frank Schaeffer, discussed this on the Rachel Maddow program and according to Raw Story ”...he emphasized that in a religious context “it means something more threatening.”    “The situation that I find genuinely frightening right now,” Schaeffer explained, “is that you have a ramping up of biblical language ... and what it’s coalescing into is branding Obama ... as ‘not us.’ ... Now he joins the ranks of the unjust kings of ancient Israel ... who should be slaughtered, if not by God then by just men.”  You can read the full article and view video of the program here

Those folks are right up there with the Dove World Outreach Church,  and former SBC second vice president Wiley Drake who is praying “imprecatory prayer” against Obama, and Rev. Steven L. Anderson, at Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona who said he was “... going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.”  All of these people need to spend a little time learning something about Christian brotherly love, and less time praying for people to die.

Colin Powell has made the strongest statement to date, basically “so what” if Obama is a Muslim.  Here is what he said:

I’m also troubled by - not what Senator McCain says - but what members of the Party say, and it is permitted to be said: such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian; has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The answer’s “No, that’s not America.” Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he’s Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery. And she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star; showed that he died in Iraq; gave his date of birth, date of death. He was twenty years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross. It didn’t have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Kahn. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey, he was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life.

I am praying for God to bless us all, for God to guide us all, for God to protect us all, and for the extremists among those who say they belong to any faith to discover love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy and justice which are the core teachings of all religions.  I am also praying for everyone to protect our President and our country.

originally posted 11/2009

UPDATE 8/24/2010

In the past month or so with all of the controversy over the proposed Cordoba House/Park 51 Islamic Center in NYC, the question of whether or not Obama is a Muslim has once again been raised.

Rev. Franklin Graham said “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim. His father gave him an Islamic name. Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the Prophet Muhammad and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That’s what he says he has done. I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.”

Graham has a history of Islamophobic statements.  In our collection Christian brotherly love is difficult for some to attain we list some of his previous statements

Rev. Franklin Graham said terrorism is part of “mainstream” Islam and claimed the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, “preaches violence.” On Fox News cable network’s “Hannity & Colmes” program, Graham, after repeatedly refusing to deny that Islam is “evil,” said: “I think it’s [terrorism] more mainstream. And it’s not just a handful of extremists. If you buy the Koran, read it for yourself, and it’s in there. The violence that it preaches is there.” Earlier in the day, Graham appeared on Hannity’s nationally-syndicated radio program where he made similar remarks and claimed that Muslim leaders have failed to condemn terrorism.  2002

Rev. Franklin Graham said Islam teaches its followers to ”persecute” others until they convert, with the aim being ”total domination.”  2006

Rev. Franklin Graham There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism.” 2006

Rev. Franklin Graham - on Nightline “If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, then go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home,” Graham said. “Just live there. If you think Islam is such a wonderful religion, go and live under the Taliban somewhere.” 2006

Graham’s comments have been taken further by some Islamophobes who are now calling Obama a “secret Muslim”.  Last night the Keith Olbermann program ran a great segment tearing apart this “secret Muslim” claim.  It’s a great satirical piece right up there with Jon Stewart’s continued debunking of Cordoba House myths.

Not surprisingly, a recent PEW poll showed that the number of Americans who believe that Obama is a Muslim has grown larger since 2008.


The Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at the Center for Race and Gender has the best working definition I have seen:

The term “Islamophobia” was first introduced as a concept in a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report and defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” The term was coined in the context of Muslims in the UK in particular and Europe in general, and formulated based on the more common “xenophobia” framework.

The report pointed to prevailing attitudes that incorporate the following beliefs:

•Islam is monolithic and cannot adapt to new realities
•Islam does not share common values with other major faiths
•Islam as a religion is inferior to the West.  It is archaic, barbaric, and irrational.
•Islam is a religion of violence and supports terrorism.
•Islam is a violent political ideology.
For the purposes of anchoring the current research and documentation project, we provide the following working definition:

Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure.  It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise).  Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.


America’s Ideals Are Being Challenged By Cordoba House Controversy, Sheila Musaji http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/cordoba_house/0018179
America’s Two Muslim Congressmen Cogitate on the New York Mosque and the State of Islam in the U.S.  http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/08/18/americas-two-muslim-congressmen-cogitate-on-the-new-york-mosque-and-the-state-of-islam-in-the-u-s/#ixzz0xX53sduw
Behind Obama Muslim myth stands the right wing http://mediamatters.org/research/201008190061
Christian Extremist Pastors Pray for Death of Enemies Including President Obama, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/christian_extremist_pastors_pray_for_death_of_enemies_including_president_o/
Cordoba House:  Hope From the Ashes of Tragedy, Sheila Musaji (regularly updated) http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslim_cultural_center_and_mosque/0018074 
Evangelist leads ‘disinformation campaign’ on Obama http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2010/08/obama-franklin-graham-christian-cnn-john-king/1
Hate rhetoric is escalating into violence, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/hate_rhetoric_is_escalating_into_violence/
The False and Seedy Claim that Obama Is Muslim, Leslie Savan http://www.thenation.com/blog/154114/false-and-seedy-claim-obama-muslim
Federally Mandated National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/national_day_of_prayer/
Iowa GOP committeewoman Kim Lehman says she believes Obama is a Muslim http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2010/08/23/obama-personally-told-the-muslims-that-he-is-a-muslim-iowa-republican-says/
The Muslim Obama, Wajahat Ali http://www.counterpunch.org/waj08232010.html
Our secret Muslim President http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-08-22/news/bs-ed-obama-muslim-20100822_1_muslim-mosque-conspiracy-theories
President Obama’s “Subversive” School Speech, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/obama_speech/
Pundits blame the victims on Obama Muslim myth, Brendan Nyhan (good history of this myth) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-nyhan/pundits-blame-the-victims_b_692327.html 
Racism is Certainly One Component of Disrespect Towards President Obama (with article collection), Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/racism_is_certainly_one_component_of_disrespect_towards_president_obam/ 
Religious freedom? Right-wing’s anti-Muslim assault echoed in nationwide mosque protests http://mediamatters.org/research/201008230028
Why Franklin Graham Planted the Muslim Seed in Obama, Ofari Hutchinson   http://www.opednews.com/articles/Why-Franklin-Graham-Plante-by-earl-ofari-hutchin-100822-712.html
Why they call Obama a Muslim: Rule out the other theories and the elephant in the room is race, Ramzi Kassem http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/08/22/2010-08-22_why_they_call_obama_a_muslim.html#ixzz0xX5XbSIt