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Barack Obama and the Politics of Xenophobia

by REMI KANAZI

Barack Obama is not a Jew. He was not raised a Jew, has never been a Jew, and is a committed Christian. Nor has Obama ever prayed in a temple. According to a CNN reporter that is referenced on Obama’s website, Indonesian yeshivas (including the one Obama attended) are not radical yeshivas — unlike the ones in Israel and Brooklyn. Obama is so not Jewish, that even his Jewish stepfather, wasn’t really a Jew. Obama has stated that his stepfather had a “skeptical bent, a man who saw religion as not particularly useful in the practical business of making one’s way in the world.” Obama’s stepfather grew up in Indonesia, a country with the largest Jewish population in the world. To be exactly clear, visit Obama’s webpage.

Sadly, if you were to take out each reference to being Jewish in the above paragraph and replace it with being Muslim, you would essentially be looking at the “know the facts” section of the Obama ’08 webpage. Obama and his campaign deemed it not only necessary to defend his angelic image against the scurrilous, absurd claim that he is a Muslim, but found it imperative to address this alarming allegation specifically by adding a separate tab near the top of Obama ’08 webpage, labeled, “on Obama’s religion.”

It’s Barack Obama’s choice to liken being Muslim to getting chlamydia from an underage congressional page, but this man of hope and courier of positive politics has taken the high road often enough, so why not this time? Let me guess, this race (like every race of the last 219 years) is “too important?” If cowering to racism and xenophobia is the remedy, well by all means ladies and gentlemen, let Barack Obama step up to the plate and deliver. But keep in mind, Obama hasn’t been accused of murder; his detractors, which include right-wing evangelicals and pro-Israel paranoids, are accusing him of belonging to a religion that encompasses twenty percent of the world and millions of Americans. The tone in which he and his campaign have responded is particularly disturbing. Obama is becoming the antithesis of his media description; he is protecting his image, instead of his message.

Obama’s raging defensiveness is an unfortunate reality, more so knowing that many Muslim-Americans are campaigning for him and faithfully supporting his candidacy today. Over the last few months, Obama skeptics have been lambasted by individuals championing “the lesser of two evils” rhetoric, but even a self-proclaimed pragmatist’s threshold should have been breached by this point. Obama is going to go as far as his supporters let him. First, he sold out Palestine. Then he sold out Iraq-while Moveon.org crumbled and endorsed him-so he could grab the centrist vote. Then, in an effort to appeal to independents and John McCain supporters, he pledged to add more troops to Afghanistan and vowed to bomb Pakistan if “actionable intelligence” necessitated it. Next to go will be his shoddy healthcare plan, along with his flimsy stance on undocumented workers, and before we know it, he’ll be campaigning for his 2012 reelection.

I recognize that it’s easy to sell out Muslim-Americans. Who actually wants to appeal for their vote, never mind get on an airplane with them, right? But it’s time that Americans grow up and get over their post and pre-9/11 bigotry, and it’s high time that our political candidates take the lead.

As Obama’s hope is swallowed by the raging waters of mainstream politics, Muslim-Americans can dutifully forget about change and accede to the politics of xenophobia. Because what reasonable person would want to be a Muslim today, when that person can be a good Christian like Barack Hussein Obama.

REMI KANAZI is a Palestinian-American poet and writer based in New York City. He is the co-founder of www.PoeticInjustice.net and the editor of the forthcoming anthology of poetry, Poets for Palestine. He can be contacted at remroum@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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