August 24th, 2010 20:44 EST
Minorities Should Be Worried About The Obama-Is-A-Muslim Myth
Tarring President Obama and millions of other Americans who don`t look anglo enough has become the grand compulsion of ideologues on the right.
A Pew poll this week concludes that 18 percent of Americans believe the President is a Muslim in spite of ample evidence that he is not. And the number who believe this lie seems to be rising.
The finding goes hand in glove with the belief of many Americans that Arabs are black in spite of the plain fact that they are Caucasians who, like many American Caucasians, have often intermarried with non-Caucasians.
That people believe what they want to believe is hardly news. But what is news is the looming issue of otherness in America. Barack Obama was elected by an overwhelming majority. He is our first African-American president. The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, which opposed Obama and now seeks to tar him with otherness, freed America`s slaves. What an irony that in its paucity of ideas the party has seized on racism to win and hold office.
But otherness is hardly a black and white issue. Ask the Hispanics who feel increasingly unwelcome because of anti-immigrant sentiment. Ask the Arab-Americans. The implication in these canards is that being Muslim or a person of color is bad. The implication is that in our enviable democracy some of us are second class citizens. The implication is racist to the core, and the degree to which the Republican Party associates itself with such sentiments is the exact degree to which anyone who remotely associates himself or herself with a minority should distrust it. And that means most of us
America is redefining its idea of Americanness and it is moving in the wrong direction. It is in fact moving to the Land of Neverwas. And it is abetted in this regression by media whose abiding concept of what it is to look American is the image of an idealized North European with a few others " sprinkled around to pay lip service to diversity. If you don`t believe this, consider the majority of advertisements, posters and trailers celebrating our troops in the Middle East "how many Native American, African-American, Hispanic, Mediterranean, Indian or Asian faces do you see? The news photos show us our army, the posters do not.
The situation is analogous to Alexander the Great`s project to Hellenize the known world, a project that largely succeeded and of which we are a direct beneficiary. He ordered his Macedonians to marry into conquered peoples. He integrated these people into his armies and government. And his Macedonians bitterly complained because they deemed themselves superior to the peoples they had overcome.
For Alexander`s Macedonians their resentment was easy to define. They knew who they were. Not so Americans. The Anglos among us are now a clear minority. Our population is still overwhelmingly white, but its roots are many and Alexander couldn`t have imagined the degree of racial mixing that has occurred in America. So who are we and them in America? Who do the racists think they are? Literally. People of North European origin, undoubtedly. Therefore privileged. But they are hardly the original Americans. And as for the anglos, the Dutch preceded them, even though New Amsterdam, with its great tolerance for diversity, is not given the historical significance assigned Jamestown and intolerant Plymouth. Such is our persistent anglocentrism.
So it seems to be a matter of shadings, accents, religions, degrees of assimilation. The right-wing ideologues say Obama is a foreigner. They deny that he is native-born, in spite of all the evidence. And just in case that doesn`t quality him for otherness, they miscast him as a Muslim. They`re angry because we have an African-American president. Their anger would be mitigated only a little if we had a Jewish-American or Italian-American or Hispanic-American president. Their ethos belongs to Plymouth, not New Amsterdam. For all their lip service to the Founding Fathers they remain profoundly uncomfortable with the ramifications of the Founding Fathers` vision.
But it is legal to be a Muslim in America. Religious freedom is a constitutional right, as every immigrant happily knows. So to do their dirty work the bigots must tar Islam in its entirety, not just its tiny fanatical fringe. And that is what they`re about when they insist Barack Obama is a Muslim, because they know that making the case he is a member of Al Qaeda goes too far, even for them.
Otherness can mean not being white enough, not being tall enough, not sounding southern enough, not going to a fundamentalist church, not approving of making bankers` wars, not voting the right way, not agreeing with Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich, not accepting lower wages to make the rich richer, any damned thing. It can even mean not flying a little American flag from your car. The purpose of the concept is to ostracize, to alienate, to create a nation of us " and them. " The idea is not unlike the Muslim concept of dhimma in which dhimmis, non-Muslims, are tolerated as long as they pay their taxes and behave as if they know they are merely being tolerated. Dhimmis in the Muslim caliphate based at Cordoba created high art and literature and were treated with a remarkable degree of equanimity on the part of their Muslim rulers. They were in fact treated far better than Jews were treated in Christendom. But they were not equals.
But then what? Repeal the section of the Fourteenth Amendment granting citizenship to infants born here of foreigners? And after that? Perhaps something like the Nuremberg Laws establishing the concept of unwelcome, undesirable citizens? And then?
Give the Nazis a little time, a little patience, and then they`ll settle down and play fair, many Germans argued. How did that work for them?
The concept of otherness with which the bigots are tarring the President is far more dangerous than Al Qaeda. It is the enemy within, for either we are all in the same boat or we are not, and if we are not, the boat will founder. We rejected "once and for all, we thought "the idea of class, and now an effort is being made to reimpose it. If President Obama is one of the others, so are all African-Americans, all Hispanics, all Italians, all Arabs, all Asians, everyone who does not look North European enough to pass a Nazi eugenics test. This is the danger to which the polls are alerting us.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com