Tuesday, May 20, 2008

OPINION: Sectarian prejudice is clear in mainstream media ...

The way things are looking, Senator Barack Obama will most likely be the Democratic Party's nominee for the presidential elections. He will lead a fractured Democratic Party to face a united Republican front to take on Senator John McCain. Hopefully he'll have a vice-presidential running mate who can shoot straighter than Dick Cheney.

Amazing. A black man in the White House. American stand-up comic Azhar Usman tells his audience: "What hope has he got? His middle name is Saddam's surname, and his surname rhymes with Osama". Still, at least his Christian name is an Arabic word that means blessing. Stand-up comics across the world will have a field day.

Voting isn't compulsory in the United States. In the 2006 presidential elections, just under 44 per cent of Americans of voting age actually turned up to the polling booths. The highest voter turnout in the last decade was about 55 per cent.

It is possible to become US president with only the support of 25 per cent of the voting age population. McCain need only convince a quarter of voting age Americans that he would make a better president than Barack Obama.

It will be tempting for Republican nominee McCain to appeal to the deeper prejudices of the American electorate. Already, like their Australian counterparts, people on McCain's side of politics are happy to use race and ethno-religious identity as a political wedge.

Daniel Pipes, a frequent visitor to Australia (usually at the invitation of allegedly conservative think-tanks) , has tried to establish that Obama was (and perhaps still is) a Muslim.

In May 2006, Cold War veteran Edward Luttwak wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that peace in Iraq could only be achieved by civil war. Two years later, under the headline of "President Apostate", Luttwak writes in The New York Times that Islamic law requires Muslims to kill Obama, and even claims that Obama's visits to Muslim countries would be complicated by the fact that any security apparatus provided would regard it as sinful to protect Obama against assassins.

I'm not sure which Muslims Luttwak is talking about. To this day, not a single American Muslim leader or imam or commentator has called for Obama's execution. Nor am I aware of any imam elsewhere (including Indonesia where he spent some years at school) making such a call.

Maybe Luttwak started his own wacky Republican Muslim sect of assassins. Either that, or Luttwak presumes that 1.3billion Muslims behave like the assassins in the first Naked Gun movie, with their leader Osama bin Laden pressing the button and the rest of them holding a gun or pillow in Washington's general direction and reciting, "I must kill President Apostate Obama."

Of course, the reality is that Obama's biggest threat comes not from the kind of terrorist who flies planes into skyscrapers, but rather the kind of terrorist who belongs to fundamentalist militias that inspired an American to blow up a federal government building in Oklahoma. For these types, the colour of Obama's skin is enough reason to vote against (if not kill) him.

The far-Right needs to be more vigilant of its own dangerous and violent elements who, thanks to the "Obama was a Muslim and may still be" propaganda, now have two reasons to attack him. As for non-Americans (Muslim or otherwise), we will judge Obama by the success of his policies.

However, it seems sectarian prejudice may have a mainstream voice. Obama has copped much flak in mainstream American media for his association with a pastor. Yet everyone seems to have ignored a pair of wacky pastors who have the ear of McCain. A tiny portion of mainstream US and international media are reporting McCain's endorsement of an American pastor who wants America to fulfil its historical mission.

And what mission is that? To spread democracy? Fight climate change? Combat political extremism? Nope. For the Reverend Rod Parsley, America's historical mission is to see Islam destroyed.

It isn't clear whether he wants all Muslims (including American congressman Keith Ellison who placed his hand on Thomas Jefferson's Koran during his swearing-in ceremony) to be killed or just forcibly converted. And no doubt Arabic-speaking Christians will be disturbed to know that, far from being a Holy Spirit, Parsley claims Allah is a demon spirit.

Far from disowning Parsley's views, McCain happily accepted Parsley's endorsement in late February, when McCain described Parsley as his moral compass and spiritual guide. But it gets better.

McCain's other wacky man of God, the Reverend John Hagee, labels the Catholic Church the great whore and claims Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath against homosexuals.

A recent University of Maryland survey says 80 per cent of Americans believe their country is run by and for big interests. How many Americans support the few bigots who want the US to lead the next crusade against Muslims, Catholics and homosexuals? How would they vote if they knew McCain says what he loves most about Hagee and Parsley are their views on the Middle East?

With so much silence and double standards among American media, I doubt most American voters will hear about the influence of this pair of prejudiced pastors. Meanwhile, the whispering campaign about Democratic presidential nominee Osa ... woops ... Obama will continue unabated.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 20 May 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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