Monday, March 3, 2008

Crucial Primaries: Obama's Faith Questioned

In a nation which proudly proclaims constitutional separation between religion and state and promotes secular democracy aboard, it is strange but true that Barack Obama's religion has become an election issue in the United States. As Obama gets closer to making history by clinching the Democratic nomination for US Presidential Elections in 2008, a number of stories are beginning to proliferate in the US media on the following questions: Is he really Christian as he says he is? Or is he secretly a Muslim? Why is his middle name Husain? Did he attend an Islamic School in Indonesia as a child? Is he really committed to supporting Israel? Would Obama take oath of office on the Bible? Why is the Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan endorsing him? Why does Obama want to talk to Iran without preconditions?

In spite of repeated affirmations by Obama that he is Christian, these stories have taken on a life of their own. Though it is hard to prove but not hard to imagine as to the purpose and the origin of such questions and rumors. It is crunch time in the election campaign. There is desperation in both the Clinton and the McCain camps as the polls show that Obama is the most likely Democratic nominee and Obama will easily beat McCain. The attacks on Obama have suddenly stepped up from both Hillary Clinton and John McCain and their surrogates. Hillary Clinton obviously wants to be the nominee and McCain would rather go against Hillary than Obama in November. As polarizing as Hillary is, she will help energize the Republican conservative base to support McCain.

While I understand the nature of politics in the US and elsewhere in the world, I am still mystified as to the relevance of the President's religion in terms of the constitution of the United States. Are we all just pretending about the separation of church and state in the constitution? Or do we really mean it? Is this truly a constitutional and secular democracy? Or are we all hypocrites?


NB said...

Its a good question. It may simply be that for an important position (such as commander in chief), people prefer candidates whom they can comprehend and relate to. For example, the electorate would want to know that when it comes down to making a tough judgement, the guy in the oval office is going to refer to the same moral and ethical touchstones as themselves. It seems like a safer bet.

So I guess religion has always tacitly been an issue for candidates, even though the executive is theoretically secular.

The Muslim thing is simply an issue because many American's have no idea what Islam entails. Sadly, there are enough who think were moon worshipping violent bearded loons. Now I can understand how a candidates faith in Mormonism or Scientology becomes an electoral issue, because it would bother me too. It raises concerns

A) as to the quality of their rationality,
B) and the priority they accord to that rationality as opposed to their 'obscure' faith, during the decision making process

Consequently, If I thought someone was a 'moon worshipper', then without further information as to their faith I would be slightly suspicious of their judgement.

Thats not to say that Islam should in any way be equated with Mormonism or Scientology. However it cannot be denied that all three religions (or one religion and two quasi-cults depending on your view) share a certain stigma amongst important electoral constituencies the US.

Riaz Haq said...

While I understand nb's argument about average voter in the South or the blue-collar Midwest being suspicious of a different religion, I believe the issue is being played up by the Clinton machine to try and slow Obama's momentum. It's likely to continue to play in the swing states such as Ohio even after the primaries, if Obama becomes the nominee. I'm sure the Republican machine is already planning a whisper campaign.

Anonymous said...

The answer: 'hypocrites'. Put them to test for any thing particularly in political terms and this would be the answer.
The other part of the answer is that specific interest groups in US feed this kind of paranoia and islamophobia. US masses are usually not very up on what is the real truth so they get swayed by misinformation fairly easily.