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March 30, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 30, 2012 PAGE 27A 0bama From page 5A An editor at The Atlantic, David Graham, criticized the poll itself, arguing that simply asking the question ends up perpetuating the "pernicious" claim that the president is a Muslim. Implicit in all of these arguments is that there is something wrong with ad- hering to Islam. And on this front, Obama and his aides are not much better than the president's opponents. This latest turn in the 2012 presidential election plot line underscores a widespread yet underlying Islamophobic societal trend that noticeably has been around since the last presidential campaign. During the 2008 campaign, the false gossip ranged from the extreme--Obama has secret ties to al-Qaida!--to the benign, such as his hav- ing chosen to be sworn into Congress using a Koran. Then and now, the Obama campaign has actively dis- missed all such claims, even ones that aren't particularly negative. In 2007, then-cam- paign spokesman Robert Gibbs referred to claims that Obama is a Muslim as "malicious and irresponsible charges." One of the 2008 Obama campaign election websites stated: "Lie: Senator Obama was sworn into the U.S. Sen- ate using the Koran. Truth: Barack Obama was sworn in using his family Bible." As former Secretary of State Colin Powell once asked, "What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" Would something be wrong Hungry From page 7A but simply hungry, how do we justify not inviting them back whenever they need to come? On what moral basis can we do so? The real fear, then, is the moment I realize that I'm not as good a person as I thought, as I hoped, I was. It's the moment when my identity is tested. Here I thought I was a generous Jew, and it turns out that when confronted with real hunger, real need, I don't have what it takes. I can't bring the hungry person into my own home to feed him. Playwright/poet Bertolt Brecht wrote of the man on if Obama had been sworn in using a Koran, as was U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in January 2007? The answer should be no. But the president and his sup- porters make it seem other- wise by treating the "Obama is a Muslim" claims as both insults and accusations that need disputing. Religious identity is impor- tant toAmericans, especially those running for the highest office in the land. This is a genuine concern for support- ers of Obama just as it is for those behind Mitt Romney, who is seeking to become the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be president. The crux of this particular prejudice, however, is not based in wanting to know what Obama's religion is but wanting assurances about what his religion is not. Much of this likely stems from an American populace that is still dealing with the trauma of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which were carried out by violent Muslim extremists with the implicit guilt by as- sociation tied to all followers of Islam. By repeatedly insisting that Obama is not now nor has he ever been a Muslim, the Obama campaign and the White House deliver a problematic message to the world, including the Muslim American minority--1 per- cent of America's population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life-- and the 1.6 billion Muslims living outside the United States. The message: At the very least, Muslims are unfit to be president. And it's not just the denials. At one event in Detroit during the 2008 presidential race, the Obama campaign moved two Muslim women wearing headscarves away from the podium and out of the sight of the cameras. Throughout that campaign, Obama spoke at numerous churches and several synagogues, but never once at a mosque. Yes, in 2009 Obama gave a widely watched speech in Egypt, the largest Muslim majority country in the Middle East, in which he cited many verses from the Koran, thereby showing re- spect to the Islamic tradition. Yes, Obama's administration has sent out statements to Americans and non- Americans alike honoring annual Muslim holidays. Yes, in an interview with CNN's Larry King, responding to the satirical cover of The New Yorker tying him and his wife to Osama bin Laden and black militancy, he said that this "is actually an insult against Muslim Americans ... sometimes I've been derelict in pointing that out." But Obama also added, "I wasn't raised in a Muslim home and I pledge allegiance to the flag ..." When did these things become mutually exclusive? Why the mixed messages? Obama's administrative staff, supporters and even some of his opponents con- tinue to echo the mantra that Obama is a practicing Christian. Instead the main message should be that it does not matter if Obama were a Muslim. When his campaign in 2008 said it was a "smear" to be called a Muslim, when his campaign and admin- istration aides today fail to stress that there would be nothingwrong even if he were bed for the night. It won't solve the problem, he says in his poem, "A Bed for the Night": "But a few men have a bed for the night For a night the wind is kept from them The snow meant for them falls on the roadway." One mitzvah is a step on the road to geulah (redemp- tion). But at the same time, as Brecht writes earlier in that same poem: "It won't change the world It won't improve relations among men It will not shorten the age of exploitation." We live in an age without korbanot, sacrifices.., or so we time is precisely this struggle: For one night, can we make a real, painful sacrifice? Can we confront our deepest fears? Can we invite the hungry in? Rabbi Josh Feigelson is educational director of Ask Big Questions (www.askbig- and a spiritual leader of the Evanston Or- thodox Minyan in Evanston, Illinois. Reprinted with per- mission from Sh'ma (shma. corn) March 2012 as part of a larger conversation on what happens around the Jewish table. a Muslim, Obama is perpetu- ating the notion that there is something wrong with hav- ing a Muslim identity. Would false rumors that a politician were Jewish be considered an insult? What about being a Hindu or a Sikh? During the 1940s, Nazi propagandists attacked Char- lie Chaplin--his film "The Great Dictator" mocked Adolf Hitler--for being Jewish. Chaplin was a Christian, but he never denied the charge because he believed that to do so would play into the hands of anti-Semites. Why hasn't Obama taken such an approach? He's had more than three years as president of the United States to stand loud and firm about how problematic it is to use the label "Muslim" as a pejorative. The television sitcom "Seinfeld" dedicated an episode to this sort of liberal hypocrisy, with Jerry and George denying being gay lovers followed by a quick "not that there's anything wrong with that" with each denial. The sitcom was mocking the insincerity of those who preach acceptance of a minority group but display revulsion when mistakenly confused as a member of that group. Ideally, perhaps, the presi- dent would follow Chaplain's lead. But if he and his aides are going to make a point of responding to claims about his religion, the least they could do is give us some Jerry and George. Even a "not that there's anything wrong with that" would be an improve- ment. Aaron J. Hahn Tapper is the director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco and the co- executive director of Abra- ham's Vision, an educational organization working with Jews, Muslims, Israelis, and Palestinians. 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