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So What If Obama is Indeed a Muslim?
  Written By: Aijaz Zaka Syed
  Article Date:
October 20, 2008



Mark Twain said a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. This is what seems to be happening in this US presidential election.

Faced with a candidate who not only promises a real, refreshing change from eight years of the Bush presidency but also epitomises change like no other candidate ever has, the Republican campaign has fallen back on what it does best: play dirty to destroy opposition with lies, innuendo and fiction.

As the world’s most expensive poll race ever enters its last lap, the Republican camp is getting dangerously desperate. The party has already exhausted all the tried and tested tricks of the trade to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Unfortunately for Republican candidate John McCain none of those tricks have been able to halt the first African American candidate’s dream march to the White House.

In fact, by steadily ignoring those shenanigans, Obama has not only managed to humble his opponents at home but has also won himself millions of admirers around the world. And this has turned into the first truly global election with people thousands of miles away becoming part of this humongous democratic exercise.

I don’t know how aware Americans are about the inexorable interest of outsiders like us in their vote.

But given the influence Uncle Sam exercises over all of us and the affairs of our world, this interest is hardly unjustified or unreasonable. Just look how we all are paying for the greed on the Wall Street.

Which is why it’s gratifying to see Obama decisively emerge ahead in the latest opinion poll by New York Times to take a 14 point lead over McCain. Besides, after the endless massacre of markets over the past month and the mind-numbing legacy this president leaves behind, only a miracle could have another Republican in the White House this year or four years from hence.

This stark reality is not entirely lost on McCain and company. Which perhaps explains the desperation in the Republican camp and its tactics like resurrecting the bogey of Sheikh Hussein Obama and his alleged closet Islamic faith.

And the McCain camp, having tried the race card against the Democratic candidate and failed, has now turned to religion. The Vietnam veteran is too clever to let his hands get dirty in the game though. So he has unleashed his glamorous running mate from Alaska Sarah Palin and people like her on Obama.

So as the race for the White House enters its crucial final phase, it seems just about everything from the charges of ‘palling around with the terrorists’ to accusations like ‘secretly’ being an Arab and Muslim is fair game against Obama. Last Friday, at one of those regulation town hall meetings that McCain works, a silver-haired woman confided: “I am really scared. I have read about him and he (Obama) is an Arab!”

To which an avuncular and all-forgiving McCain responded saying, “No Ma’am. He’s a decent family man...he’s not (an Arab)..”

Maybe McCain has nothing to do with these cheap, below-the-belt blows. Maybe it’s too late for the 72-year old candidate to distance himself from the monster that his campaign has unleashed on a credulous electorate, notoriously unaware about the world beyond their shores. But the damage has already been done.

Even though this is a complete and absurd lie, what if Obama is indeed an Arab or Muslim? Since when being an Arab or Muslim has become a crime?

Although America claims to be One Nation Under God, as far as my limited knowledge goes there is nothing in the US Constitution or law to suggest you can’t enter the White House if you are black or an Arab or a Muslim. And pray why does Obama get so defensive and apologetic when he is called a Muslim? I know this is not the most ideal time to be an Arab or Muslim anywhere in the world, let alone in Bush’s America. No matter what the Bushies say the war on terror has always been seen by the Americans and the rest of the world as a war on Muslims.

As Aminah McCloud, a professor at DePaul University and director of the Islamic World Studies program says in the Chicago-Sun Times, this war has done everything to vilify a 15-centuries old faith of a billion plus people and a great civilisation that contributed immensely to the Western Renaissance as something of a sinister, underground cult.

As McCloud says, while denying that this is a war on Islam, they have
supported the rhetoric that makes “being Muslim the worst thing one can be.”

No wonder the Muslims and Obama have been so reluctant to acknowledge each other.

The Democratic candidate is afraid of even being photographed with the people who share his Kenyan father’s faith. For their part, Muslims have held themselves from reaching out to Obama lest their support becomes an albatross around his neck.

This is why it is a miracle that he has managed to come as far as he has. And it’s not just Obama who has made this historic journey. His country and millions of people in and outside America have travelled with him on this road to a new dawn of hope and change.

This is not a small accomplishment for a country in which until not long ago people were segregated on the basis of their colour and made to live like cattle.

Which is a tribute to America and the spirit of infinite possibilities that it constantly explores, despite the relentless manipulations and machinations of powerful lobbies and interest groups.

But it’s about time Obama confronted this toxic whisper campaign about his religious convictions. The Obama camp has so far responded to the absurd charge about his faith as if it’s a smear campaign.

He has to declare to the world that even though he is a Christian and was baptised as a Christian, he does not believe being Muslim or following a particular faith is a crime.

The change Obama has been promising all this time will come only when he exorcises America of its demons of race and religion.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of  Khaleej Times. Write to him at  aijaz@khaleejtimes.com