America and Islam: The Uncomfortable Silences

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve been hearing a number of interesting things from various sources relating to presidential hopeful Barack Obama since he made the required number of delegates to take the Democratic nomination. Most of these (one of which was posted as a comment on an article I put up a couple of weeks ago), mention simple semantics. Barack Hussein Obama.

Yes, that’s his middle name. Sure it is the same last name as the target of hostilities in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and yes, it is a Muslim name. In fact, its a relatively common one. Obama’s father (whom Barack was named after) was muslim, but he was not involved with the senator’s life. Nor was he a radical. Barack Obama is a Christian. As much as I can tell, the mentioning of Obama’s middle name is intended to scare voters away from the man. As if that’s going to work. At least, hopefully it won’t.

Where do we stand now in America? As a society still recovering from slavery, racism has not left us. The question is will it ever? Its a hard thing to answer.

As far as I am concerned, racism and hatred (or any general dislike based upon something as silly as skin color, gender, sexual preference, etc.) is a wholly learned atribute. It cannot be said that a person can be born as a racist. This is taught, whether voluntarily or not. One thing I do believe, and it may be due to the idealism I have within me, the number of racist people is decreasing. A part of this is potentially due to a number of caucasian men and women raised by the baby boomer population choosing to not pass on these sentiments that they were told when they were young. But that’s not to say it’s going away.

It strikes me that the racism in the United States has branched out. Now it’s encompassing even more groups. Like the Japanese were persecuted during World War II and placed into concentration camps in the US, Muslims are taking the brunt of the attack now that America finds itself in conflict with groups in the Middle East. And it seems as if people feel that this is the patriotic thing to do. As if hating some group could be needed by a country.

Some people think that every Muslim is bad, and that’s the reason for the hatred. Others are bothered by the darker skin or the accent. Some feel that all Musims hate America. But the truth is that there are many Muslims in this country who are more than happy with America. Not every one with a middle eastern background is a terrorist. Fear is the driving factor in this brand of racism, and it can be traced all the way back to George W. Bush and his regime. In fact, there is a good population of many eastern religions living in the United States. To top that off, there is a large group of people who have converted to Islam. I know someone personally who converted from Catholicism to Islam a few years ago and is as happy as he can be.

Religious Affiliation, General Population Surveys
ARISa GSSa PRCc Baylord
Christian 76.7% 81.3 81.9
Protestant 49.8% 50.4 53.9 60.7
Catholic 24.5% 25.1 25.2 21.2
Other Christian 2.4% 2.2
Jewish 1.4% 2.2 1.9 2.5
Muslim 0.5% 0.7 0.5
Non-affiliated 14.2% 14.2 11.8 10.8
Other/DK 7.2% 7.4 4.5 4.9
a. 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (N=50,281)
b. 2004 General Social Survey (N=2,812)
c. 2006 Pew Research Center Surveys3 (N=23,255)
d. 2005 Baylor Religion Survey4 (N=1,687)

The Pew Forum

So its no wonder the rest of the world hates us. We have made it policy to not care about our appearance to other nations and the United Nations. We have chosen to not be accepting of others or to play nice with others. Our global relations are dwindling and in a increasingly globalized world such a policy seems counter intuitive. It seems what we need is to care about our nation, about our image, about our people’s opinions and ideas. I think the future looks bright. A black president could change minds, especially one who chooses to make his message one of hope, of optimism. Perhaps he could help to increase awareness of racism, to squelch it when it occurs. It can’t be just up to him, it’s on all of our shoulders.

Will we ever break free of racism? I doubt it. At least not until all people start interbreeding and we all level out in color. Or maybe the globalization will help bring people together. If we try, we can get closer and closer. That’s the way it is.