Most Americans felt in 2008 that the allegations against then Presidential candidate and later nominee Barack Obama were despicable. Many of us thought the allegations and suggestions that were spread on the campaign trail designed to paint Obama an "other" went too far.
Many Americans hoped these allegations died when the President released his "long form" birth certificate in April 2011 along with the repeated acknowledgement of his Christian faith, but we were wrong.
In what can only be seen as acts of desperation on the part of far right Conservatives, attempts to paint the President as an "other" have returned with renewed vigor and a theological twist. Questioning the Presidents citizenship has been left to the loony fringe of the party, but the topic of Obama's religion has gone mainstream as a regular talking point on the campaign trail. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and well known party activist Franklin Graham are the most recent culprits.
No one Republican Presidential candidate thus far have been so bold as to outright call President Obama a non-Christian per se, but language criticizing his values and vague responses to questions about his religion are prominent shoulder shrug antics are clues and hints given as red meat to the party base. Comments such as those from Santorum Press Secretary Alice Stewart referring to President Barack Obama's policies as "radical Islamic" days after her boss accused the President of supporting a "phony theology" and one "not based on the Bible" are recent examples of the rhetoric being used this election cycle.
"Politics are a full contact sport" former President Bill Clinton once stated, and as such we should expect all manner of dirty tricks and games to be played against political rivals. However, this issue of the President's religion is above the cuff despicable as it simultaneously suggests that only Christians and only Christians as defined by the far-right should be elected President and at the same time disparages and alienates non-Christian Americans especially Muslim Americans as undesirables unworthy to serve as President of the United States.
It is as if the GOP has decided that America should be a Christian theocracy and any issue, idea, or belief that is contrary to their views and beliefs should not be allowed in America. They have declared war on diverse viewpoints and perspectives and in many instances are actively trying to legislate them as we witnessed recently in Virginia. This is an agenda inconsistent with American values and more consistent with theocracies like Iran and Israel.
The constant attacks against the President suggesting that he is not one of "us" is alarming, offensive, and should be condemned in the national discourse first from party leaders and especially in the media. Religion should not be a litmus test for candidacy or for service in our nation. The founding of our nation was based both on freedom of religion and freedom from religion and to suggest otherwise should be categorically dismissed as un-American.
The attack against President Obama's so-called lack of a Christian identity is mind-boggling when you consider that he was previously attacked for his decade long attendance at a church and his affiliation with its pastor. President Obama was also married in a church and had his children baptized as well. These facts along with his repeated statements in speeches, interviews, and his writings should suggest that he is a Christian to his detractors, but apparently it is not enough.
Granted, theologically speaking, all manner of criticism can be levied against an individual who claims a religion yet their actions and personal beliefs don't align with the accepted interpretation of one's religious doctrine. Sectarian debate among religious groups is nothing new. Many Christian groups believe other Christian groups aren't Christian or Christian enough. What's deplorable is the idea that this type of debate is worthy of our politics and acceptable as a talking point against a sitting President or any candidate.
The debate turns malicious when the pandering and apparent litmus test is given in a way when one party is given an unquestionable show of support and another receives what amounts to a should shrug. A good example occurred when Rev. Franklin Graham on a recent interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe program, supported both Santorum and Gingrich claims to Christianity, but stated that Obama had to be asked and Romney wasn't at all. Similarly another MSNBC guest Dr. Craig Mitchell stated "I don't know if He's a Christian or Not" when asked by host Martin Bashir about the President's faith. President Obama for his part during a recent campaign stop in New Mexico reaffirmed his religion again by stating "I am a Christian by choice".
Prominent Republican Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in the opening remarks of his GOP response to the State of the Union address, stated "I personally would add to that list admiration for the strong family commitment that he and the First Lady have displayed to a nation sorely needing such examples." The far-right wing of the GOP touts that they are the "values" voters as part of their religious statements. Why is there such a disconnect between the President's statements declaring his faith, the actions he displays as a husband and father, and Conservative assessments his "morals", "values", and Christian belief?
Most Americans regardless of religious tradition would view the Obama family in the context of a great example of a happy, stable, family devoid of many of the social ills and ailments that often plague our country. They would also believe agree that the Obama's are a good example of a family in keeping with the doctrines of the Christian religion as often touted by the far-right. However, when it comes to the President, the same rules do not apply.
As an American Muslim I am particularly troubled not by Obama's adherence to Christian orthodoxy or orthopraxy, which should be left to Christian scholars and God in the first place, but the often vague and in some cases direct claims painting the President as a closet Muslim who should be rejected and despised as adherence to Islam should make one unfit for service and electability in the United States.
Franklin Graham and many other far-right commentators and candidates have made it known that according to them if you are an American Muslim you are not to be considered as equally American and should have no place in the country or in their party and if possible deported. Disparaging comments against Islam and its adherents suggesting incompatibility with the American way of life as defined through their doctrinal lenses are commonplace and as such the title of "Muslim" is used as a slur in many GOP circles.
These attacks against the President are an affront to all Americans, do not represent what our founding fathers and documents intended, and should be condemned by all Americans. It is unacceptable to attack the President in this manner and by extension the millions of loyal American Muslim citizens by suggesting that our religion is not welcome in America. It shouldn't matter what the President believes even if he were a Muslim.
It is time for Americans of conscience to remind or politicians and leaders that America's diversity is one of our greatest strengths. Our diversity is an affront to our enemies, coveted by our allies, and is the greatest example of what is possible when we celebrate one another based on the content of character instead of outward appearance, religious ideology, or difference of opinion. We need to remove this bitter and divisive rhetoric from our politics and advance the cause of liberty, justice, and equality for all.
Robert Salaam is a writer and editor at the American Muslim website and blog www.theamericanmuslim.net he's a Marine Corps veteran and 9/11 convert. He writes and speaks about issues concerning and affecting American Muslims. He's also the Director of Internal Affairs and co-founder of the American Muslim Interactive Network (AMIN) a Washington DC grassroots network of local Muslims dedicated to community service and charity.
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