Sunday, June 06, 2010

POLITICS/COMMENT: Religious Freedom in the Land of the Free ...

This column was first published in NewMatilda on 17 January 2008.


Barack Obama could convert to Judaism, have a sex-change operation and marry Daniel Pipes. He’d still be eligible for the top job, writes Irfan Yusuf

Here’s a memo to all you God-fearing American voters out there: Barack Obama is not a Muslim. He never has been, even if his biological father was a Kenyan Muslim and his step-father was an Indonesian Muslim. And even if he went to school in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority State.

So what exactly is Obama’s religious affiliation? Who knows? Indeed, who cares?

No Mormons please, we’re evangelical

Believe it or not, many Americans do. Just ask all those evangelical Christian Republican voters in Iowa who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the smart and talented Mitt Romney, and that minority of Michigan Republicans who refused to vote for him.

Romney might be a self-made man. He might bring much needed political skills to the White House. Unlike a certain Texan who once appointed John Howard as his Deputy Sheriff, Romney might actually be able to string a sentence together without inadvertently injecting too much wit and wisdom.

But forget all that important stuff. What really matters to a huge number of Americans is that Romney is — perish the thought — a Mormon. You wouldn’t think he was, would you? Romney doesn’t wear a black name badge on the front of his coat or even sing his amended version of that old Christopher Cross song (which goes something like “When you get caught between the moon and Salt Lake City ).

But I guess for evangelical warriors, Romney’s faith is a deliberate deception of all those poor God-fearing real Christians.

In my high school year, I had two close mates, one Jewish and another Mormon. Ours was a low-church evangelical Anglican school, and our school chaplain one day decided to show us all a video called The God Makers. The video claimed to expose Mormon teachings, which Mormons allegedly hide from the rest of us.

After the movie, some evangelical kids poked fun at my Mormon friend, saying: “What kind of stupid religion teaches that men can become God?"

My Jewish mate retorted: “I know. It’s almost as dumb as claiming God became a man!"

You’d think American Republicans would show more maturity than a couple of 16-year-olds.

No (former) Muslims please, we’re Neo-con

Romney may not be prepared to disown his ancestral faith, but Democratic candidate Barack Obama can’t get enough of disowning his. Obama has used every opportunity to reassure Americans that he has absolutely no trace of Islam in him.

Obama sees Christianity as a faith mobilising people to pursue social justice. In this respect, his vision is similar to that of our own Kevin Rudd. Further, Obama’s statement on faith clearly states that religion shouldn’t be used to divide the nation.

Given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers.

But all this doesn’t help Obama. As American Muslim stand-up comedian Azhar Usman told one audience:

Check this guy out. He’s first name rhymes with Iraq. His middle name is Hussein, and his last name is almost Osama!

If you believe what lunar-Right commentators like Daniel Pipes say, you’d think Muslims were lining up to kill Mr almost-Osama. On Christmas Eve, published a sectarian rant written by Pipes titled ‘Was Barack Obama a Muslim?’

Pipes concluded Obama was an ex-Muslim who converted to Christianity in his college years. Because of this, Pipes claims

Mainstream American Muslims … would … be angry at what they consider would be his apostasy.

I can’t find any evidence of mainstream American Muslims getting angry over Obama’s religious choices. Perhaps Pipes could show me the anger in this column by one of America’s most widely read Muslim writers?

Pipes doesn’t stop there. Eight days later, he provides evidence that ...

Obama was an irregularly practicing Muslim who rarely or occasionally prayed with his step-father in a mosque.

On that basis, Pipes titles his article ‘Confirmed: Barack Obama Practised Islam’.

On that basis, I can confirm that former Liberal Member for Parramatta, Ross Cameron, also practised Islam. On the day before his election to Federal Parliament in 1996, I took Cameron to a Friday prayer service. Cameron addressed worshippers, then joined them in prayers, copying all the postures of Islamic congregational worship. To this day, I’m not aware of a single Muslim from Parramatta or elsewhere who has threatened to kill Cameron for abandoning the faith.

Why God won’t get to vote in the US Elections

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson successfully moved Virginia’s Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. In his autobiography, Jefferson praised the inclusiveness of the Statute which allowed for ...

... the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and the Infidel to play an equal role in public life.

Other Founding Fathers made clear the new federal republic would allow followers of all religions and none to hold high office. This has been enshrined in the US Constitution, which states...

... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

That means Hillary can become a Mormon, divorce Bill and become Mitt’s second wife. Obama can convert to Judaism, have a sex-change operation and marry Daniel Pipes. They’ll still be eligible for the top job.

American Neo-cons can only make an issue of a candidate’s faith by ignoring the clear intent of the Constitution. And to think they call themselves conservatives.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Ayaan Hirsi Magaan and the Enlightenment

Ayaan Hirsi Magaan, the Dutch-Somali evangelical athiest and neo-conservative, has just published a second instalment of her memoirs entitled Nomad. She has some interesting things to say about her ancestral culture and faith. She also has some interesting things to say about her new faith which she calls the "Enlightenment".

Pankaj Mishra, writing in the New Yorker, has some interesting things to say about all this.

The book opens with an account of her visit to her father’s deathbed, in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, in 2008. Her father, a highly respected political opponent of Somalia’s Soviet-backed military dictator, became more religious during exile and old age. Father and daughter hadn’t spoken since 2004, when Hirsi Ali and van Gogh made the film “Submission,” about the oppression of Muslim women, and she learned that he was fatally ill only a few weeks before his death. She didn’t want to visit him at his home, since it was in “a mostly immigrant area and overwhelmingly Muslim,” ...

Yep, migrants are such a blight on society. If only her late father could have been more white for his daughter's sake.

The Muslims in Whitechapel “had brought their web of values with them,” values of a culture that she has left behind. She deplores her “conflicted” half sister Sahra, who is interested in studying psychology in London while remaining a devout Muslim, and who has an annoying habit of saying “Inshallah” after every phrase. “How long will Western societies . . . continue to tolerate the spread of Sahra’s way of life?” Hirsi Ali asks.

Clearly, the only real option for the West is intolerance.

“The only difference between my relatives and me is that I opened my mind,” Hirsi Ali writes.

Opened her mind to what? Well, obviously to Voltaire and the Enlightenment.

In denouncing Islam unreservedly, she has claimed a precedent in Voltaire—though the eighteenth-century scourge of the Catholic Church might have been perplexed by her proposal that Muslims embrace the “Christianity of love and tolerance.” In another respect, however, the invocation of Voltaire is more apt than Hirsi Ali seems to realize.

Voltaire despised the faith and identity of Europe’s religious minority: the Jews, who, he declared, “are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts,” who had “surpassed all nations in impertinent fables, in bad conduct and in barbarism,” and who “deserve to be punished.” Voltaire’s denunciations remind us that the Enlightenment was a much more complex and multifaceted phenomenon than the dawn of reason and freedom that Hirsi Ali evokes. Many followed Voltaire in viewing the Jews as backward, an Oriental abscess in the heart of Europe. Hirsi Ali, recording her horror of ghettoized Muslim life in Whitechapel, seems unaware of the similarly contemptuous accounts of Jewish refugees who made the East End of London their home after fleeing the pogroms.

The rhetoric is the same. The hatred is the same. Will the outcome be the same? Do Hirsi Magaan and her supporters want to see forced conversions of European Muslims to Catholicism as Jews were once foribly converted? Is their "enlightenment" incapable of accepting religious and cultural minorities? Does the European Right want a chance to shoot and gas 6 million European Muslims before they accept minorities as part of their community?

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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