President Obama’s 10-day Asia trip includes visits to India and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country.
The president chose not to visit the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar during his time in India because it required a head covering that his advisers feared would fuel speculation about his faith. A Pew study showed that nearly 20% of Americans believe falsely that the president is a Muslim.
An example is his April 2009 speech in Turkey, in which he said, “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” The president’s critics have seized on that statement, insisting that he rejects the Christian foundations of America.
Is Obama stuck between a rock and a hard place? If you were the president, how would you handle this dilemma?
Obama’s decision not to visit the Golden Temple was yet another blot on his lackluster record when it comes to combating religious bigotry.
So 20% of Americans think he is Muslim. Big whoop. Even more people think that his birth certificate was forged, that he’s a socialist, that he’s the anti-christ, or even, that he wants the terrorists to win! Clearly, facts have nothing to do with their perceptions of the president. If Obama thinks the fact that he declined to visit the temple and wear a turban is going to convince them of his Christian pedigree, his citizenship or anything else, he’s wrong.
While there are many things I wish the president had done differently, his lily-livered response to accusations that he is a Muslim is representative of one of his most significant short-comings. The president has squandered, again and again, the opportunity to challenge the current culture of fear and fear-mongering that has gripped these American states. Whether it be the fever over immigration, over Muslims, or over liberal ideology, Obama should have used the presidency as a bully pulpit to challenge the rampant bigotry and intolerance that has been fed to us by TV and radio pundits, and which seems to be the accepted manner of carrying out politics these days. This past campaign season was marked by the worst kind of fear mongering, whether it was by Sharron Angle against Muslims, or aspersions against Rand Paul’s Christian faith, or Mike Pompeo’s attack on immigrant Americans. Obama should have taken the lead, denouncing these sorts of tactics, and opening a dialogue on civil rights, mutual tolerance, and bigotry in all its forms. His response to accusations of being a Muslim, a socialist, not a born citizen, etc should have been, “I’m not, but so what if I were? It is not a crime to be Muslim or socialist or an immigrant in this country. Nor do these things mean you do not have a place in our society, and those who suggest that we need to institute second class citizenship for folks who are Muslim, socialist, or immigrant, etc need to think again. That is not what America stands for, it is not what our Constitution mandates, and it is not what we will accept in the future.” (Obviously, you can’t be president if you are not a born citizen, but anti-immigrant sentiment is about far more than whether Obama is legally president or not.)
I find it scary that portions of the American populace think it is OK to bar Muslims (and gays! what a coupling!) from public service. We seem to have lost our bearings as a country. And President Obama could do so much to help bring us back on track. Or at least to start the dialogue that will bring us back on track. And yet, instead, he chooses to skip visiting a temple, slighting the Sikh religion and American Sikhs, because it might give his opponents ammunition against him. It’s time Obama did what was right, rather than pander to his opponents!
Not only does Obama’s cowardice in face of patently ridiculous accusations leave unchallenged the bigotry that is behind such accusations, it has squandered all the good-will that Obama once had in countries where America’s image needed improvement. The fact that the president won’t stand up for minorities, that he declines to visit temples because he is afraid of how his detractors will use the resulting images only reinforces the notion that America is an unsavory place to be if you are not White, Christian, relatively well-to-do, and Republican. This is thankfully, still a false notion… America is still a wonderful place, for the vast majority of its citizens… but the president surely has not done his part in demonstrating that to the world, or ensuring that it remains so! The ramifications of this are not only in the damage to America’s image, but in the way our enemies will use the president’s shortcomings and the ravings of his opponents, or anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant activists, to recruit people to their cause, and motivate those who have already joined. The president’s weak response, thusly, jeopardizes not only the status of certain American citizens, but the safety and security of us all.