Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Naomi Klein

Obama, Being Called a Muslim Is Not a Smear
by Naomi Klein
February 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton denied leaking the photo of Barack Obama wearing a turban, but her campaign manager says that even if she had, it would be no big deal. "Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."

Sure she did. And George W. Bush put on a fetching Chamato poncho in Santiago, while Paul Wolfowitz burned up YouTube with his antimalarial African dance routines when he was World Bank prez. The obvious difference is this: when white politicians go ethnic, they just look funny. When a black presidential contender does it, he looks foreign. And when the ethnic apparel in question is vaguely reminiscent of the clothing worn by Iraqi and Afghan fighters (at least to many Fox viewers, who think any headdress other than a baseball cap is a declaration of war on America), the image is downright frightening.

The turban "scandal" is all part of what is being referred to as "the Muslim smear." It includes everything from exaggerated enunciations of Obama's middle name to the online whisper campaign that Obama attended a fundamentalist madrassa in Indonesia (a lie), was sworn in on a Koran (another lie) and if elected would attach RadioShack speakers to the White House to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer (I made that one up).

So far, Obama's campaign has responded with aggressive corrections that tout his Christian faith, attack the attackers and channel a cooperative witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. "Barack has never been a Muslim or practiced any other faith besides Christianity," states one fact sheet. "I'm not and never have been of the Muslim faith," Obama told a Christian News reporter.

Of course Obama must correct the record, but he doesn't have to stop there. What is disturbing about the campaign's response is that it leaves unchallenged the disgraceful and racist premise behind the entire "Muslim smear": that being Muslim is de facto a source of shame. Obama's supporters often say they are being "Swiftboated," casually accepting the idea that being accused of Muslimhood is tantamount to being accused of treason.

Substitute another faith or ethnicity, and you'd expect a very different response. Consider a report from the archives of this magazine. Thirteen years ago, Daniel Singer, The Nation's late, much-missed Europe correspondent, went to Poland to cover a hotly contested presidential election. He reported that the race had descended into an ugly debate over whether one of the candidates, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was a closet Jew. The press claimed his mother had been buried in a Jewish cemetery (she was still alive), and a popular TV show aired a skit featuring the Christian candidate dressed as a Hasidic Jew. "What perturbed me," Singer wryly observed, "was that Kwasniewski's lawyers threatened to sue for slander rather than press for an indictment under the law condemning racist propaganda."

We should expect no less of the Obama campaign. When asked during the Ohio debate about Louis Farrakhan's support for his candidacy, Obama did not hesitate to call Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments "unacceptable and reprehensible." When the turban photo flap came up in the same debate, he used the occasion to say nothing at all.

Farrakhan's infamous comments about Jews took place twenty-four years ago. The orgy of hate that is "the Muslim smear" is unfolding in real time, and it promises to greatly intensify in a general election. These attacks do not simply "smear Barack's Christian faith," as John Kerry claimed in a campaign mailing. They are an attack on all Muslims, some of whom actually do exercise their rights to cover their heads and send their kids to religious school. Thousands even have the very common name Hussein. All are watching their culture used as a crude bludgeon against Obama, while the candidate who is the symbol of racial harmony fails to defend them. This at a time when US Muslims are bearing the brunt of the Bush Administration's assaults on civil liberties, including dragnet wiretapping, and are facing a documented spike in hate crimes.

Occasionally, though not nearly enough, Obama says that Muslims are "deserving of respect and dignity." What he has never done is what Singer called for in Poland: denounce the attacks themselves as racist propaganda, in this case against Muslims.

The core of Obama's candidacy is that he alone--who lived in Indonesia as a boy and has an African grandmother--can "repair the world" after the Bush wrecking ball. That repair job begins with the 1.4 billion Muslims around the world, many of whom are convinced that the United States has been waging a war against their faith. This perception is based on facts, among them the fact that Muslim civilians are not counted among the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan; that Islam has been desecrated in US-run prisons; that voting for an Islamic party resulted in collective punishment in Gaza. It is also fueled by the rise of a virulent strain of Islamophobia in Europe and North America.

As the most visible target of this rising racism, Obama has the power to be more than its victim. He can use the attacks to begin the very process of global repair that is the most seductive promise of his campaign. The next time he's asked about his alleged Muslimness, Obama can respond not just by clarifying the facts but by turning the tables. He can state clearly that while a liaison with a pharmaceutical lobbyist may be worthy of scandalized exposure, being a Muslim is not. Changing the terms of the debate this way is not only morally just but tactically smart--it's the one response that could defuse these hateful attacks. The best part is this: unlike ending the Iraq War and closing Guantánamo, standing up to Islamophobia doesn't need to wait until after the election. Obama can use his campaign to start now. Let the repairing begin.

Postscript: Ari Melber criticized this column, citing a video the Obama campaign has been circulating featuring a minister of Obama's church who makes it clear that while Obama is not a Muslim, there would be nothing wrong with it if he was. I had the same clip sent to me directly from the Obama campaign and wrote this in response: "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."

One more thing: now is the time when candidates are most open to pressure. For instance, Hillary Clinton just announced that she will co-sponsor legislation to ban the use of private military companies--exactly one day after my Nation colleague Jeremy Scahill revealed that both Clinton and Obama were poised to let the mercenaries stay in Iraq even if the troops come home. Pushing candidates on the issues during a campaign can have a real impact, so can we please move beyond superfandom? I have also heard from people who think that saying Arabs and Muslims are worthy of exactly the same rights and protections as other minorities is just too high-risk a position for Obama during the campaign. If that's the position, so be it, but don't pretend the campaign is doing something it is not. It is precisely because he has been so strong on other issues of discrimination and racism that his trepidation on this issue leaps out.


In these days when Muslim is equated to the 'bad guys' certain people will use it as a ploy to denigrate. When religion takes on a world they feel is against their beliefs it results in a sort of religious fascism among the followers of that religion. The Jews have proven this beyond reasonable levels against Arabs. Militancy arises and wars begin, religious wars. Kind of an oxymoron isn't it? Religion and the followers of it killing the perceived unbelievers. Somehow that is supposed to increase credibility of that religion? Not likely, but it continues today as it has for a millennium.

Discrimination because of religious affiliation is prohibited here in the USA making those that would use it as a political tool are guilty of subversion and traitors of the first degree, they alone possess the tools of hate. This fact should not be tolerated for one second and as Naomi pointed out, by Obama not declaring it a form of religious intolerance in a supposed religiously free nation speaks volumes.

As a leader of the greatest country in the free world he needs to set the bar for the future to let everyone know the intolerant will not be tolerated, not now, not in the future.

Friends, we have had our once proud country dragged through the dirt by the worst administration in recorded history. Our standing in the world has diminished from the once proud beacon of hope, to tattered collection of fascist entities intent on burying the past and creating their future wealth not ours, gutting the soul of our country, making us slaves to the almighty dollar and corporate interests.

Obama needs to rise above the crowd and declare a return to once revered beliefs of faith, hope and charity and reject the current so-called 'acceptable beliefs' put in place by people who care more about their money than their fellow man.



Carey said...

Nice, thoughtful opening post Den.

I'm off to tons of errands including car repair and dentist. Back tonight.

DEN said...

Carey, remember I am a car repair consultant.

Most shops are ripoffs especially when women bring in their cars, cause they don't know diddly about cars.

David B. Benson said...

Pell Institute presented an award to the State of Wadhington (and two other states) for the best-functioning state government(s).

None of the other regulars live in a state with a best-functioning state government.

tytandanmar said...

Lets be real here. Hillary dressed in traditional African clothing is not going to be mistaken for an African or a Muslim. They knew the intent of the photo and do not have the courage to admit it. Igore it Obama. Just another Clinton tactic.

David B. Benson said...

I do hope everybody will give Senator Tom Harkin a piece of their mind:

Tom Harkin blathers lies and nonsense about mary-jane

NORML has the right of it.

tytandanmar said...

Just got off the phone with Hajji. He is still in Cincinnati. Said he walked over 30 miles this weekend campaiging for Obama.

Food for thought:

Rush and Glenn Beck are urging Republicans to vote for Hillary tonight. Their reasoning that if things keep going back and forth for the next few months it gives McCain an advantage because it keeps Clinton and Obama at each other. If you ask me it only makes McCain 2 or 3 months older.

DEN said...

"Rush and Glenn Beck are urging Republicans to vote for Hillary tonight."

Those two are bozos, intelligent people recognize that, many do not.

Could be subversion, which is a crime.

"Subversion is the idea that an altered state or mutation of the status quo is a healthy solution to the mass conformity of any society".

Broadcasting 'subversive' programming is not nice.

Is there an Attorney General in the house?

Carey said...

Tytandanmar is correct about perpetuating the Dem primary campaign, of course. It does benefit McCain. But that's a fact of political life, darn it.

Den, the car had a bad radiator, $697. Couple hoses, $104, some thermo thingie, etc. We knew it wasn't good.


None of the other regulars live in a state with a best-functioning state government.

Nah, nah. So? We can boast the Terminator. Oh yeah, and Ronald Reagan!!!! Nixon too. The state holds its head proud. We have Hollywood.

Good government? Who needs it?

DEN said...

Carey, sure ain't bashful about their prices in so-cal are they, glad I do my own repairs.

Watch the ground where you park for wet spots indicating leaks and check the fluid level in the overflow bottle(coolant) for the correct level, usually marked on the side. Bring it back to them if it is low.

What kind of car is it?

David B. Benson said...

Carey --- Your state has some serious financial problems, Terminator or no...

{ò,ó}arol said...

No point in writing to Harkin, or anyone else about anything. We'll all go to our deaths before pot is ever legalized.

Michigan is going to have the medical pot issue on the ballot. Big deal.

Just read that Oregon is having a special lottery. A lottery where if a person's name is drawn they'll get health insurance! Can you believe something that pathetic!?!?! Over 80,000 people have put there name in and only a few thousand will luck out. It's for people not poor enough for Medicaid, and too poor to buy insurance. Well, I've news for them: NO ONE CAN AFFORD TO BUY IT! Grrrrr. Too bad this didn't happen when Sicko was still in production.

I'm in a foul mood tonight!

DEN said...

Eat some chicken.

DEN said...

The whole 'War on Drugs' thing is a lost cause, period, end of question and answer period, PERIOD!

Management is a better way than incarceration and sticking the taxpayers for the bill.

Grow your own and cut out the dealer factor, no war.

Natures bounty cannot be taxed or outlawed, manufactured chemical drugs don't count.

Carey said...


I'm sorry about your mood. If Obama could just eek out Texas.

Clinton crossed a Democratic party line when she ran the "red phone" ad. Fearmongering at its worst.

She crossed a very big line. The line--she used a Rove/Bush/Cheney model--the same effin crap. Don't like that.


I wanted a Toyota Camry after Dan totaled my Mom's Lexus. Ken got me a '92 Infiniti Q145 or Q45. Expensive parts, in other words. Winke insists he never would have gotten the Camry anyway. He despised Japanese cars.

Carey said...


I was being sarcastic about that stupid Sexistator person, Arnold.

Yes, Calif.'s having terrible financial problems, quite serious. The state school budget is being radically cut.

DEN said...

Carey, next time get a common car, preferably one that has had variants of the same basic stuff, Accords and Acuras are great for that, parts for repairs are cheaper, Camry and I really like Scions too are the same, lots of interchangeable parts, cars made in Japan itself are preferable.

I have a Monte Carlo SS now but it has sticking sunroof issues and a horn button that is un-locatable except when you do not need to find it, it's a lump but parts are cheap cause there was a bunch of them made.

ungamely warden said...

Management is a better way than incarceration and sticking the taxpayers for the bill.

Helloooooooo! Incarceration is the goal.

How do you think they fill all those cells in the PRIVATIZED PRISONS?

DEN said...

Nader on Jon Stewart,

Sniveling about Texas not allowing voters in the primary to sign petitions for third party Presidential candidates to get on the ballot.

Dumass joins the party late then bitches when he cannot get on the ballot?

Ralph, I think I hear your mommy calling you.

DEN said...

I know what the GOAL is pal, I'm saying there is a better way.

Take your meds.

DEN said...

Den out!

ò¿óarol said...

Hillary did well. Ugh

We have two Toyotas now.

I'm still in a foul mood. It snowed yet again! Covered up the thick ice so I STILL have to drive to the road to get my damn paper. Grrrrr.

Towel on my head, hair to dry. Heading out soon to the damn grocery store. Cook, cook, cook. Seems that's all I do. Arghhhhh.