Tuesday, September 7, 2010

If Obama is a Muslim, maybe I am too...

A lot of things really bug me about the continued speculation in the US about Barack Obama being a secret Muslim. But most of all, it is the extent to which so many people seem incapable of thinking outside their rigidly-defined little box.

Here are just a few reasons why 1 in 5 Americans think he's really a sneaky Islamist.
  • He's Muslim because he has relatives who are Muslim.
  • He's Muslim because he can remember the opening lines of the Muslim call to prayer.
  • He's Muslim because he was once photographed wearing a traditional Somali garment. The Somali are Muslims, so that makes him a Muslim.
  • He's Muslim because he once bowed to the Saudi king. (He also once bowed to the Japanese emperor, so perhaps he follows the Japanese Shinto religion as well...)
  • He's Muslim because he has an Arabic middle name.
  • He's Muslim because he spent some of his early years in a predominantly Muslim country.
  • He's Muslim because he has tried to cultivate good relationships with numerous Muslim countries, and has only been involved in fighting wars against two of them.
  • He's Muslim because he thinks the azan (call to prayer) is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth at dusk.

The phrase I see again and again on blogs and articles promoting this idea, is "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck."

Thus all those reasons above might seem convincing to some people. But then again, most of them can just be attributed to Obama being a man with an unconventional life story, and a broad range of interests and experiences. And if we pursue the "quacks like a duck" analogy, then surely Obama walks and quacks more like a Christian duck than a Muslim one. Attending church for 2 decades, raising one's daughters as Christian and anouncing one's devotion to Jesus Christ to the entire world seem far more convincing evidence than any of the reasons listed above.

I guess its not a surprise that this kind of thinking occurs in a nation where some labelled Obama as an un-American elitist because he pronounces Pakistan the way Pakistanis do (Paa-ki-staan) rather than the typical American way (Pack-a-Stan).

The small-minded approach to this issue rankles with me particularly because I relate to Obama on a number of things. Being bi-cultural. Having an anthropologist mother. Growing up amongst different cultures. Having a fairly global outlook on things.

And it thus bugs me that many traits that sane people regard as positive (Obama's cross-cultural awareness, his intellectualism, his diverse range of experiences outside America, his lack of enthusiasm for militaristic aggression) are actually seen as a negative. And that any trait that marks him out as different to the stereotypical white conservative American is taken as a sign of being a Muslim or Socialist or both.

So I started to wonder: What if, in some far-fetched future, it was me running for President of the USA? (Of course this would never happen, not least because I'm not an American.) What if I were faced with the same kind of scrutiny from prejudiced ignoramuses that Obama has faced? Would they conclude that I too was a Muslim? Let's see...

I have Muslim parents!
Although both are closer to being agnostic. My mother is Muslim because she was born as one, but practices barely any of the religion's tenets; my father converted in order to marry her (to please the in-laws), but did not actually embrace any Islamic beliefs that I know of.

I have spent a lot of time in Muslim countries!
I've been to Indonesia around 10 times and Malaysia around 6 times. Most of those times were spent with my Christian Indonesian relatives and my Hindu Malaysian girlfriend.

I did some of my schooling in a Muslim country!
Was it a madrassah? Close enough - it was a Teacher Training College in Yogyakarta where I did an intensive course in the Indonesian language. I also learned about the culture of this Muslim country, including how to make batik designs and how to play instruments of the traditional gamelan orchestra. They never taught us how to be martyrs against the infidel West; I must have been away sick that day.

I can recite some phrases in Arabic!
Let's see... Salaam alaikum... W'alaikum salaam... Allahu Akbar... Insha'Allah... Hummus bi Tahini...

I have been photographed wearing Muslim clothing!
I once marched in the Australia Day Parade, representing Melbourne's Indonesian community. Among other things, I wore a peci, the traditional cap worn by Muslim males in Southeast Asia.

I associate with Muslims!
I'm friends with about 20 of them on Facebook. Plus there's another few hundred friends on there who look a bit brown and have suspiciously foreign-sounding names, so they may as well be Muslim. Oh, and I did date a Muslim girl once. I don't know if she was very religious though; we didn't really do much talking, if you catch my meaning.

I listen to the rantings of hate-filled Islamic preachers!
Well, I own 4 albums by Ice Cube and 5 by Public Enemy. That's got to count for something.

I love the sound of the azan (Muslim call to prayer)!
Well, it's all right. I don't love it if it wakes me up in the morning though.

I have studied Islamic literature!
Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong. A great read. It helped me come to the conclusion that I definitely had no interest in being a Muslim.

I have a Muslim-y middle name!
"Harshawardhana". Actually, its Indian (Sanskrit in origin), but who cares? Indian, Arab, Muslim, its all the same sh*t, right? Damned ragheads.

So by that logic, at least 20% of Americans think I'm a Muslim. Because regardless of the true story behind all the above statements, people can spin things anyway they want, if they are so determined to believe what they want to believe.

In truth, I've been an agnostic most of my life, but more recently decided that Jesus was pretty rad and thus have been finding a gradual accommodation with Christianity.

Or is that just what I'd have you believe, while I secretly plan my jihad on the infidels?

See also...

The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

More "Obama's not an American" nonsense

Obama bows again. Conservatives are angry. Sensible people couldn't care less.


  1. You forgot the fact that he dared to defend the CONSTITUTIONAL right--freedom of religion-- that Muslims have to build their mosque wherever they want, including near Ground Zero in New York.

  2. Even weirder, by these nutbags' logic I could secretly be Muslim, and I'm a white guy from a several-generations Anglo family raised in rural Western Australia!

    All because I... have lived in a Muslim country (taught English in Egypt from 1992-94); can speak some Arabic (because I lived in Egypt for two years); associate with Muslims (ie Muslim friends here in Australia); have read literature from the Middle East (the novels of Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz); and would agree that the Muslim call to prayer is beautiful when practised by the best callers.

    These are crazy folk, just like the people in the USA & Canada who interned all Japanese-descended citizens for years during WWII, even if they went back generations and couldn't even speak Japanese. Sad to see that some Americans have descended to this level of paranoia.

  3. what did I just read?!?! what a waste of time

  4. Islam is a cult of Lies and Death, Muslims do not belong in America!!!