So What If Obama is Muslim?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

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 refreshing change from eight years of the Bush presidency but also epitomizes change like no other candidate ever has, the Republican campaign has fallen back on what it does best: play dirty with lies, innuendo and pure fiction targeting opposition.

As the world’s most expensive poll juggernaut enters its last lap, the Republicans are getting dangerously desperate. The party has already exhausted all the tricks to discredit Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Unfortunately for Republican McCain none of those tricks have been able to halt Obama’s dream run.

In fact, by steadily ignoring those shenanigans with a Zen-like grace, the first African American candidate has managed to humble his opponents at home as well as won himself millions of admirers around the world. This has turned into the first global election with people on all continents becoming part of this gigantic democratic exercise.

I don’t know how aware our American friends are of the outside world’s inexorable interest in their vote. But given the influence Uncle Sam exercises over all of us and the affairs of our world, this interest is hardly unreasonable. Just look how we all are paying for the neocon sins and greed on the Wall Street.

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

This reality is not entirely lost on McCain and company. Which explains the desperation in the party and its desperate tactics like resurrecting the bogey of Sheikh Hussein Obama and his faith. The McCain camp, having tried the race card and failed, has now turned to religion. The Vietnam veteran is too clever to let his hands get dirty. So he has unleashed his glamorous running mate from Alaska and people like her on Obama.

So as the race for 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue enters its final phase, it seems just about everything from the charges of ‘palling around with the terrorists’ to accusations like ‘secretly’ being a Muslim is fair game against Obama. Watching McCain work the Republican crowds is like watching the Roman mob baying for blood. There are regular calls for the "terrorist’s head" and trying Obama for ‘treason’.  Last Friday, at one of those regulation town hall meetings, a silver-haired woman yelled: "I am really scared.  I have read about him and he (Obama) is an Arab!"

To which an avuncular McCain responded saying, "No Ma’am. He’s a decent family man…he’s not (an Arab).."  As if being an Arab is a blatant act of war against the civilized world!

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 damage may have 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 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 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 terror war has always been seen by Americans and the rest of the world as a war on Muslims.

As Aminah McCloud, a professor at DePaul University says in the Chicago-Sun Times, this war has done everything to vilify a 15-centuries old faith with a billion followers and a great civilization that contributed immensely to the Western Renaissance as something of a sinister, underground cult. Like Ms McCloud argues while denying this is a war on Islam, they have supported the rhetoric that makes "being Muslim the worst thing one can be."

No wonder 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’s 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 traveled 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 color. And this has been possible despite the relentless manipulations of powerful lobbies and interest groups.

But it’s about time Obama confronted this toxic whisper campaign about his beliefs. The Obama camp has so far responded to the absurd charge about his faith as if it’s a smear campaign; as though being labeled a Muslim was a disgrace. I agree these are not the best of times to speak on behalf of the Muslims, especially when you are running for the most powerful office on the planet

But if Obama really stands up for his convictions and believes no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their color, creed and birth, then he has to confront these phantoms once and for all. He has to declare to the world that even though he is 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, Dubai. He contributed this article to Contact him at: at

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