The latest wingnut hit job on Barack Obama is a two-pronged attack. First, it tries to paint Senator Obama as a Muslim (i.e., "terrorist" ) who cannot be trusted. Second, and more subtly, by forcing the Senator and most thinking people to point out that the Senator is not in fact a Muslim, it leaves the implication that being Muslim is something to be feared. This second line of attack is the subject of this post.
Others have pretty much made mincemeat of the nonsense being flung at Senator Obama, so I won’t spend time here defending the Senator. I will only add two points. First, anyone who knows anything about the education system in Indonesia would laugh at the wingnuts’ ignorance. Second, the Bush Administration actively supports Islamic education in Indonesia through the American Corners program. (psst…one more thing: don’t tell the wingnuts that the Asian Development Bank just gave $50 million to develop madrasa education in Indonesia).
Regarding the American Corners program, behold Karen Hughes, public diplomat extraordinaire and George W Bush confidant, cozying up to those Islamic educators in Indonesia:
Let us get back to the charge that somehow being Muslim is a bad thing – that Muslims cannot be trusted, that they must be feared and watched. A lot of Muslim commentators that are dragged out every time there is a suicide bombing usually go into a defensive crouch: don’t blame us, we are the moderate Muslims; we categorically reject the latest heinous crime, etc., etc., etc. This image of Muslims claiming their "moderate"ness and the incessant Muslim bashing that comes from the wingnuts is poisoning the well. It has led to the notion that unless Muslims jump every time some Muslim has done something horrible, they are not being patriotic or they are supporting the terrorists. This notion has taken hold lately – Muslims are being painted as a monolithic herd and the only way to proclaim one’s patriotism or innocence is now to distance oneself from the herd. I have written in the past that this is a dangerous trap for Muslims to fall into – yet here we are.
I recommend a different approach. I recommend an approach that I hope you, the reader, will find to be quintessentially American.
I declare: I am proud to be a Muslim.
I am proud to be a Muslim. I am proud to have been raised in the Islamic tradition. My parents taught me tolerance, respect for others, respect for one’s elders, honesty, dignity of labor, and other essential qualities of a good and decent life. My parents raised me to celebrate diversity and strive for understanding rather than confrontation. In other words, the values I have been taught are Islamic values – just like they are Christian values, or Jewish values, or Hindu values – they are family values.
I was born in a majority Muslim country. I learned at a very early age the importance of tolerance for other religions. I grew up surrounded by other religions. I celebrated pooja with our Hindu neighbors in my village; I celebrated Christmas with my Christian nanny. My mother, a Muslim, studied at a convent in Bangladesh; I went to a school run by Christian missionaries in Dhaka.
I grew up in one of the largest Muslim majority countries in the world. That country, Bangladesh, has a secular constitution that guarantees freedom of religion – it is a constitution that borrows much from the American constitution. That country, Bangladesh, has had two female prime ministers – imagine a Muslim country with not one, but two, women who have ruled it. Bangladesh was formed in part to protect the rights of its people – Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists – to live in a secular state. All my life, I have lived under the Muslim belief that there is "no compulsion in religion".
I am proud to be a Muslim.
I grew up admiring American ideals. I memorized the Bill of Rights as a child. I read and absorbed the Constitution of the United States – the result of thousands of years of human evolution. I immigrated to this country, became naturalized, and with my right hand raised, I claimed that Constitution as my own.
I am proud to be an American and a Muslim.
I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. That Constitution guarantees me the free exercise of my religion and forbids the establishment of a state religion. That Constitution celebrates diversity.
I am proud to be an American and a Muslim. I am grateful that my daughter is growing up in a country that protects and celebrates diversity. I am confident that the pitiful and ignorant hatemongering will ultimately fail.
Finally, if the reader will indulge me, I have a message today for the Debbie Schlussels of the world: you can kiss my American and Muslim behind.