The religious slurs against Sen. Barack Obama must stop. So, too, the insinuation that to be Muslim, which Obama is not, is somehow a disqualification for president.
Voters chose John F. Kennedy to be the first-ever Catholic president. We accepted Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as a viable Democratic Party vice presidential candidate. In the 2008 campaign we have accepted a Mormon, an African-American man and a woman as serious presidential candidates.
But even the false assertion that Obama is a Muslim has been enough to incite bigotry.
The Tennessee Republican Party issued a news release featuring the photograph of Obama dressed in turban-topped Kenyan tribal garb with the headline: “Anti-Semites for Obama,” and then referred to him as “Sen. Barack Hussein Obama,” with “Hussein” in bold type.
Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Bill Cunningham and right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel have also smeared Obama.
On Feb. 26, Cunningham warmed up the crowd at a John McCain rally by invoking Obama’s middle name three times and referring to him as “the great prophet from Chicago.” Schlussel began an on-line article: “Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim Always a Muslim.”
E-mails have been circulated warning us that if Obama wins the presidency and we “lose” the war in Iraq, America will become Arab-land. Some of these e-mails include pictures that reproduce a fake cover of Playboy magazine displaying veiled playmates from Afghanistan; Burger King becomes a Falafel King; and McDonald’s becomes McHammed’s, with this caption: “Billions and billions oppressed.” The final picture in the e-mail shows green, onion-shaped domes perched atop the White House.
Yet, why do some Americans promote this big lie? The answer is obvious: They believe that by falsely proclaiming that Obama is a Muslim, they can destroy him.
On “60 Minutes,” Steve Kroft asked Sen. Hillary Clinton if she believed that Obama was a Muslim, Clinton answered: “No, no, there is nothing to base that on, as far as I know.”
Why such a vague reply? Why didn’t she say the truth: “I know for certain that Sen. Obama is a Christian; we have attended many White House prayer breakfasts together.”
How refreshing it would have been had Clinton added: “Even if Barack had been a Muslim, which he is not, what difference would it make? This is America; we respect people of all faiths, no matter where they pray, whether in a church, a synagogue or a mosque.”
In spite of the distance we have traveled since a Catholic was elected president, the unfortunate fact is that in our 2008 election, few politicians or pundits have addressed this nation’s deep and dangerous anti-Muslim sentiments.
This allows the bigotry against Muslim Americans and Arab Americans to fester.
It will continue to fester until courageous movers and shakers begin saying, repeatedly, and in loud, clear, voices: “There is nothing wrong and everything right about having Americans of all faiths and colors seek the presidency of the United States.”
One day, perhaps as early as 2016, voters will cast their ballots not only for qualified candidates named Jim, Sam, and Jane, but also for those named Muhammed and Laila.
When this happens, we can rejoice that we are a nation of equals.
Jack G. Shaheen is the author of the newly released “Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.