Equality (Except for Muslims): What We Talk About When We Talk About Obama’s Religion

by: Khai Devon

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which should mean that it doesn’t matter what religion (or non-religion) you practice (or don’t) in this country. Theoretically. The ideal is: religion is a private matter. Privacy: that thing that Facebook got rid of once and for all with the advent of timeline. Who, how or what you worship isn’t supposed to be a big deal, as long as you’re a decent, law-abiding citizen who can do whatever job it is you’re looking for.

Even if that job is President of the United States of America.

Technically, we have no law that stating that you have to be a Christian in order to be President. However, every President we’ve ever elected—and the vast majority of the rest of our elected officials—have identified themselves as and campaigned as Christians. Their faith becomes part of their platform—the way their stance on renewable energy or their economic policies do. In fact, in a lot of cases, faith is a bigger part of their platform than anything else.

Case in point: When Barack Obama began campaigning in 2007—in preparation for the 2008 presidential race—he faced accusations and rumors that he was a Muslim. Rather than worry about whether he had the experience, platform, policies and ability to lead a country teetering off the rails, we forced Obama to defend his faith. The word “Muslim” was thrown at him with the same accusing tone as “murderer” might have been, as if his belief in any particular deity affects his ability to create solid energy policy.

Now, some four years later, after President Obama has spent valuable time and resources “proving” his “Christianity” to a nation that won’t accept direction from someone who doesn’t worship like they do, the word Muslim is still being hurled at him—as a slur. The birthers have been quieted, for the most part. Even the reddest tea-partiers have to admit there are things Obama has done with his presidency that were worth doing, and the bluest of the blue have to admit Obama has gotten some of their agenda done. And as the election cycle picks back up, the word “Muslim” came back up, thrown at the President as a tactic to encourage people to fear him and oust him from office.

Here’s the thing: In the first place, President Obama has been President now for almost four years.  At this point, who cares what his religion is? Whether he is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or Agnostic, who cares? What matters is what he’s done, what he can do and what he will do.

However, the (unfortunate) answer is that the voting population of the United States of America cares—because Islamophobia runs rampant in popular American culture.

In a society that privileges white, Christian, cissexual males, the fear of other cultures and other religions is deeply entrenched and fed on a regular basis. The popular image of “the Muslim” that we are fed through media images of Muslims is a brown-skinned terrorist from a culture that operates very differently from the United States. It touches on our entrenched racism, religious discrimination and rabid idolatry of “the American way of life,” and this ideology is fed to us by our government, our media and by each other—over and over again.

Calling the President a Muslim is inaccurate. But even more than that, it reveals that we as a culture have a long way to go in terms of truly being a free, equal and accepting society. It reveals that we are steeped in bigotry and phobia. And it reveals that the first amendment is a piece of paper with some pretty words on it, unless we (as a group) decide to live our lives as if we believed it.

Khai Devon is a genderqueer lesbian poet with a dreamer’s sensibility and a compulsion to create the world sie wants to live in. Sie writes blogs at http://disturbinglynormal.wordpress.com, and http://duffelbagandadream.wordpress.com, updating whenever the words overflow and sie has internet access. Sie also writes poems like sie’s breathing, and sie’d like it if you emailed hir at khaidevon@gmail.com if you wanted to talk about poetry, activism, or anything sie’s written about here.

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