Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Islamophobic Vote

Eboo Patel has an interesting piece in today's Georgetown/On Faith blog about repudiating the anti-Muslim vote.

"Every Presidential campaign is an opportunity to affirm America's core values – to ourselves and the world. I hope this campaign starts living up to one of those values, best articulated by Senator Clinton… 'there are no acceptable prejudices in the 21st century in our country.'

Not against somebody's gender. Not against somebody's race. Not against somebody's religion.

Which makes me think about the time John Edwards said, back when he was in the running, that he didn’t want the votes of people who refused to vote for Senator Clinton because of her gender and Senator Obama because of his race.

What if Mr. McCain put on his homepage tomorrow that he doesn't want the votes of people like Mr. Fasano who proudly proclaim that they are not voting for Mr. Obama because they don't like his name or the religion of his grandfather?"

I don't know what would happen, but I won't spend much time wondering - because it never will. Republican strategists know that they need the racist vote, and so far neither candidate has displayed the backbone necessary for this kind of politically-costly slap in the face to their own base. Obama may have angered the left with his compromise on FISA or his change of heart on NAFTA (the latter of which I'm happy to see), but those moves were part of a general election strategy, and they'll help more than they hurt. If Senator McCain's image isn't suffering because of the racists whose votes he will surely win, he's not going to publicly repudiate them.

Incidentally, the rumors about Obama being Muslim strike me as a racial attack rather than a religious attack. Poorly-researched and widely-rebutted NYT op-eds aside, I think most anti-Obama bigots aren't convinced he's a Muslim. There's way too much evidence to the contrary, and every story claiming Obama's Muslim heritage has been debunked. Even if Obama were a Muslim apostate, as Luttwak claimed in that NYT piece, the "Obama = secret Muslim" fears of the bigots would still be unfounded. Their concern, widely, is not that Obama's heritage will anger Muslim countries; it's that he's a Manchurian candidate
(or perhaps a Trojan horse) whose Christianity is merely a disguise for a more nefarious agenda.

So given that it's obvious Obama is a practicing Christian, it's hard to believe that his name has caused so much confusion. I think it's more likely that Islamophobia is (sadly) more socially acceptable than racism, and the obfuscation of Obama's religious views and background is an effort to provide cover for a different bigotry (one that is equally offensive, but at least rooted in reality - almost no one has argued that Senator Obama isn't black). Few people are still willing to publicly declare that they "just won't vote for that n******," but saying "I don't know about voting for a Muslim" is still fair game. Hopefully I'll see the abandonment of that bigotry as well in my lifetime.

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