Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Who Cares?

The New Yorker Obama CoverThe question of Barack Obama’s faith and background keeps coming up. Despite his long-held Christian faith, the rumors that he is a Muslim persist. An April poll showed that 1 in 10 Americans thought Obama was a Muslim (one would hope that number would have dropped in the months since).

Is Barack Obama a Muslim? No. (Visit for the short answer.)

But what if he was? Who cares?

Is Barack Obama an Arab, as McCain crowds in Minnesota seem to think (yes, I’m embarrassed for my state)? No. His father is from Kenya, his mother is from Kansas (hey, my mom’s from Kansas!) and he was born in Hawaii.

Again, but what if he was an Arab? Who cares?

There’s a bizarre paranoia in the current presidential campaign that Obama will be mistaken for a Muslim or an Arab, and the implication is that Americans won’t vote for someone who is a Muslim or an Arab. The implication is that somehow being a Muslim or an Arab would be a bad thing.

We see that implication when McCain admirably confronted his crowd:

McCain passed his wireless microphone to one woman who said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not uh — he’s an Arab. He’s not — ” before McCain retook the microphone and replied:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

I appreciate that McCain is finally trying to tone down the scary rhetoric (“Terrorist!” “Kill him!”) at Republican rallies, but even his response seems to reinforce the idea that an Arab is not a decent citizen. I don’t think that was McCain’s intention and I’m not faulting him for it, but that seems to be a persistent feeling in this country. And it’s just wrong.

I understand wanting a president who has your faith and shares your cultural values. But this fear of different faiths or cultures is just creepy. I appreciate that people are quick to correct the errors here, but more than anything I wish we would confront the underlying racism and discrimination. The only positive note in all of this is that the issue is not that Obama is black (though a cynical person might say that is the issue, but it’s not culturally acceptable to express it that way, so instead we get the Muslim/Arab accusations).

It seems that Muslims and Arabs are facing a kind of culturally accepted racism and discrimination in this country today. And that’s just wrong. It’s like the Japanese internments during World War II, or the anti-German sentiment during World War I. You’d think at some point we’d learn the dangers of demonizing our enemies and learn to distinguish those who are different from us and those who are our enemies. You’d think a country that claims to be Christian (I don’t make that claim, but this discrimination comes from people who would make that claim) would do a better job showing how to love our enemies (something Jesus commanded), much less those who aren’t our enemies but are simply different from us.

One thought on “Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Who Cares?”

  1. Kevin, you were more than kind to McCain in your comments. The blame for the recent negative outbursts in crowds regarding Obama can be laid squarely at the feet of the McCain/Palin campaign. Palin has been reckless with incendiary remarks that are dangerous in a country that has had assassinations as part of our history. I am appalled at her judgment and McCain’s quest for the presidency which has certainly clouded his judgment.

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