An Interfaith View: Islamophobia and Racism

Posted on April 8, 2008


By Lawrence Swaim

In a much-anticipated speech about his Mormon faith, Mitt Romney had a perfect opportunity to illuminate the complexities of politics and religious liberty. Instead, he used the opportunity to plead for evangelical votes, signaling that he would do nothing to stop the Religious Right from using government to promote its agenda. This ignored the peculiar role of secularism in America — namely, that only secular government can guarantee religious liberty for religious minorities. In any case, Iowa’s evangelicals didn’t buy it, voting overwhelmingly for the down-home populism of Mike Huckabee.
Meanwhile, there are two libelous chain e-mails about Barack Obama making the rounds. The first suggests that he attends a Christian church that bars white worshippers. The second claims that he is a “sleeper” Muslim agent assigned to destroy America from within. Annenburg Political Fact Check, a project of the Annenburg Public Policy Center, calls both e-mails “appeals to bigotry and fear” that are “sliming Obama.”

The first e-mail maintains that Obama is “possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today.” It suggests that Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ, won’t allow whites to join or attend. This is disputed by Martin E. Marty, a white theologian at the University of Chicago, who in April 2007 rebutted similar smears by Fox News commentators. “My wife and I on occasion attend,” he said, “and like all other non-blacks, [we] are enthusiastically welcomed.”

The second e-mail amps up the Islamophobia to Wagnerian heights. It states that Obama “takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim,” was enrolled in a “Wahabi” school in Indonesia and refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, claiming that “while others place their hands over their hearts, Obama turns his back to the flag and slouches.” All bunk, the APFC says.

Some of the smears originated a year ago in Insight Magazine, owned by the same company that owns the The Washington Times. Last month, YNET news reported that Hebrew versions of the e-mails are circulating in Israel, suggesting that the campaign is more than just an afterthought of rogue activists. On Jan. 15, leaders of nine major U.S. Jewish organizations released an open letter denouncing the “hateful e-mails.”

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. [more]

Please read the remainder of this article from Southern California Infocus newspaper.

Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation. He taught for eight years at Pacific Union College, and his academic specialties are American Studies and American literature. His column addresses current affairs from an American Christian and Interfaith perspective.