First posted on blogspot on August 15, 2008
It is no secret that we have been living under a regime of fear and jingoistic propaganda the likes of which have not been witnessed since our good friends in Germany strayed behind similar fascist leadership. Bush and Company did not invent the underbelly of America, they have just given it license to rule the day, and the last 8 years. I am tired of beating around the Bush both literally and figuratively. Let’s just call the current state of US politics what it is, cynical, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and just plain u-gly! And, in my opinion, a phrase that epitomizes this political cesspool-ness is: “Barack Obama is a Muslim.”
This flat-footed phrase in and of itself is not patently racist, ugly, or xenophobic, right? We can read this statement as simply declarative, much like “Jennifer is a gay.” And, just like, “Jennifer is a gay,” the intended meaning is far more sinister than the words convey; until you factor in our current fear driven “American” psyche and the “i’m-a-‘patriot’-deathly-afraid-of-the-‘other’-and-my-commander-in-chief” mentality. With this context taken into consideration, the deeper meaning is revealed. It’s anti-Obama effectiveness relies upon the understanding that certain assumptions are just “true.” 1. Obama is a liar who cannot possibly know his own faith. 2. Being Muslim is bad. 3. Not being a Christian is un-American. 4. Muslim’s are brown people. 4. Brown people are “other” or “Not American”. 5. Muslim’s are terrorists. This cynical syllogism goes something like this: Muslim’s are anti-American, brown, terrorists; Obama is brown; Obama is a Muslim; Therefore, Obama is an anti-American, brown, terrorist.
This kind of embedded anti-logic requires us to engage with the statement in ways that do not uproot its true racism and xenophobia . Obama’s camp says, “he is not a Muslim.” Obama supporters say, “he is a Christian, not Muslim.” But wait! What is wrong with being Muslim? Much like “Jennifer is a gay,” the very identity of a group of a people is foisted as an insult (e.g. that’s so gay); and the identity then becomes the evil and must therefore be denied. Wrong!
We must take Bush, Fear and Co. out of the discursive driver’s seat. You do not get to define who is American! You do not get to define who is presidential! You do not get to define what it means to be Muslim or gay! And, to the rest of us, let us not engage with such clear racism and xenophobia without calling it out and refusing to engage the statement on their terms. If we let it rest, we lend it credence. If we do not ourselves question, “what is the problem with being Muslim? what are they getting at?” then we uphold the fear-laced embedded meanings.
Let’s start a new game, with new definitions, and a spirit of hope, that which Senator Obama so clearly wishes to offer.