March 10, 2008

Islam...uh, Obama?

As the status of Obama’s religious and ethnic background come forth in all distorted forms, he continually fights off claims that he swore into office on the Koran, or that he attended a Muslim terrorist training school. But Naomi Klein points out that rebuffing these charges is not enough. And seeing it as slander perpetuates the depictions of Muslims here and abroad as a national security threat. Its not slander, she says, but racist propoganda.

Klein argues that Obama needs to take an extra step, not merely remind people that he is in fact "safely" Christian. He has a chance to lead the way in disabusing Americans of their negative associations with Islam. Until then, merely “setting the record straight” might help save Obama, but it doesn’t address the deeper problem of the consistent criminalization of entire religious and ethnic communities that often runs through these candidates' statements and policy proposals.

The transformation of American consciousness about the Islamic world, and a re-conception of what constitutes terrorism is key to any foreign policy shifts proposed by the Democratic candidates.

Yet, look at Obama’s stances on Israel as a case in point to the absurd forms of racism that continue to come out of the mouths of liberal politicians… and which are explained away consistently as the requisite lip-service for winning office. Take Obama’s AIPAC speech a year ago, his pro-Israel reversals at debates, or his letter to the US ambassador to the UN, defending Israel’s economic and military seige on Gaza. All these actions hollow out his hopeful calls for progressive changes in American foreign policy, let alone his more profound call for a new-born political culture.

His transparent pandering to the pro-Israel right is doubly tragic, as it un-does his early support for Palestinian rights organizations in Chicago. The Zionists he seeks to bring into his coalition are some of the very purveyors of the insistently racist attacks on him and his association with Islam.

Even these outright lies and "accusations" of his Islamic heritage have not dissuaded Obama of his desire to win favor with American Zionists, many of whom look upon him with suspicion or disdain. In trying to cozy up to AIPAC, a group that actively pushed for war in Iraq and has been beating the drums for an attack on Iran, Obama undermines his strongest claims to foresight and principle as the only remaining “anti-war” candidate.

I like Obama, but its sad to see him pulled down into the dirty system he claims to transcend. The more he panders, the less moral high ground he retains, and the weaker his claims to change appear. The anti-Islamic attacks on him are not only racist and wrong, but have the potential to drive an increasingly calculating candidate Obama to more hawkish stances on foreign policy. This a vain compensation for the popular depictions of his connection to a religion of "the terrorists"—a discourse that some of his policies tacitly uphold and perpetuate.

By the end of this, we could see a candidate like Kerry, so obsessed with appearing tough on terrorism that it became unclear to us and to himself, what exactly he stood for.

What will it take for a Democratic candidate to take a stand? Ironically, its the brand of transformative leadership to which Mr. Obama lays claim.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to see someone writing about this. I receive completely dismissive responses whenever I bring this up.