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Web Letter

All religions, not just Islam, potentially threaten loyalty to the state. For example, a Christian may not have fought for his nation state in World War II against other Christians. One is not allowed to be a Christian before one is a loyal citizen of a nation state. We may be allowed multiple identities, but loyalty to the national one is primary.

Any candidate for state office must prove that his primary allegiance is to the state. The state persecutes any and all religions, loyalty to any of which threatens allegiance to the state. Obama cannot say that the Muslim or the Catholic faith would never compete with the state for the loyalty of an individual, for religious faith may just put believers in such a bind (remember John Walker Lindh). He cannot simply defend Islam, Catholicism or any faith from critique.

Any candiate must be willing to persecute those religions that threaten to compromise loyalty to the nation state.

As Andrew Collier puts it: "The assumption of Spinoza and Rousseau is that if everyone first gives their allegiance to the state, all the religions within the state can tolerate one another. But this misses the point since no religious believer can give his or her first allegiance to the state. So instead of a prescription for universal tolerance, it is a prescription for the persecution of all religions. On this rock the French revolution crashed; a revolution that had the consensus of the Third Estate behind it became a revolution resisted by the Catholic half of the people, and consequently a revolution that had to live by terror."

Of course Obama thinks that forms of Islam that have been domesticated like his form of Christianity are deserving of honor and respect. He seems to say this at least enough for Naomi Klein to have heard it.

But he is not being accused of practicing such a form of Islam but a form of Islam that compromises his loyalty to the state. To be a candidate in bourgeois liberal society, he has no choice but to distance himself from Islam, understood in this way.

So what he is distancing himself from is not Islam but any understanding of religious faith which could compromise loyalty to the state. In other words, he is not trying to prove himself a Christian but a loyalist of the nation state.

But Obama does have a loyalty at odds to the state--to the religion of international human rights. He is willing to criticize US soldiers in Afghanistan in terms of their violation of them, to insist that the US subordinate itself to the International Criminal Court and to demand respect for the Geneva Convention.

Now all this can be justified in terms of the national interest, but Obama evinces a primary allegiance to humanity as such in terms of his commitment to universal human rights that no government can violate. I think he is the only candidate who shows such sympathies.

His universal humanism may, however, be seen as anti-patriotic. McCain, who has shown a commendable reluctance to Islam-bait him, may fear-monger about Obama's universal humanism. This may ultimately be seen as more threatening than his putative faith in Islam.

So it's important for us to remember that being called a universal humanist is not a smear either.

A.L. Hartal

Walnut Creek, CA

Mar 2 2008 - 3:01am

Web Letter

Wonderful article by Ms. Klein. If Obama was indeed all about "change," why doesn't he show us that is actually a fact as opposed to empty rhetoric? And if he is saying nothing even though he truly feels this is disgusting slander because he is scared he will lose the election, then he truly is no less of a fraud than Hillary Clinton or any of the other "Washington insiders" he likes to attack daily.

Being a Muslim today is equivalent to being a "Jap" in the early '40s or being a Communist in the '50s. But yeah, there is no media bias in the US. This issue has been really eating at me for quite some time now and it came to a crescendo during the debate on Tuesday with that joke of a question by Russert linking Farrakhan and a trip to Libya in 1984 with the pastor of Obama's church nd Obama's support for Israel... Sadly, I would bet 98 percent of the population can not see why this is ludicrous.

With election day in Rhode Island coming up on Tuesday, the more I think about it the more I think I will abstain from voting (even though I loathe Hillary Clinton), much like Mr. Obama abstained from voting on the resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary guard as a "terrorist organization" (wonder what that makes the CIA or US Special Ops etc.). You know, the same resolution he now tries to hammer Hillary Clinton for voting yes on.

The more things "change" in Washington, the more they stay the same.

Shakoor Khan

Cumberland, RI

Mar 1 2008 - 3:30pm

Web Letter

This article makes a great point, and I would take it a step further and say this is just one part of a much bigger problem: how presidential campaigning is carried out in this country.

There is an enormous amount of political calculus involving advisers and focus groups that goes into creating the speeches and talking points of all of these candidates. It's very likely that Obama finds the attempted linkage of himself to Islam in an attempt to stoke unfounded Islamophobia of some Americans quite reprehensible...but he has been advised to approach the matter in a certain way in order to best appeal to the electorate.

Similarly, with Obama being former president of the Harvard Law Review, I find it hard to believe that he is not well versed enough in constitutional law to understand that it is a miscarriage of justice for Nancy Pelosi to declare impeachment "off the table" when in fact it is blatantly obvious that President Bush and Vice President Cheney should have long ago been impeached. This is another, much more serious case of political calculus overriding Obama saying what he really feels.

Here's the worst part: I can only assume that Obama thinks these things; since he has not called for impeachment nor has he repudiated these attacks on him as racist/Islamophobic, how can I as a voter know for sure where he truly stands?

I want to vote for a leader. If Obama is holding back because his true feelings are politically inconvenient, then he is not a leader. He has a tremendous platform to challenge American citizens to truly question our view of the world, but the "change" he speaks of in his speeches rings hollow. Frankly, his "change" is bullshit.

Instead of trying to win an election with political calculus, he should come out and speak raw truth (like some guy named Kucinich from Ohio we used to know). Obama should be challenging American citizens to be more informed and to expect more of ourselves. That is the change I want to see.

Seth Fisher

Staten Island, NY

Mar 1 2008 - 3:18am

Web Letter

Hey, thanks for calling attention to this issue! My friends and I have been talking for a while now about how the controversy surrounding Obama's middle name and this "smear campaign" overshadows the bigger, underlying problem of a pre-exsisting, under-the-radar, but none the less vicious, fear and intolerance of Muslims and people of Arab descent that has been festering in America for a while now.

I dont know which is sadder, the fact that we're openly belittling millions of people across the world or the fact that people don't even realizing it's happening! The mainstream media hasn't been much help either; in fact, one could say they're encouraging or at the very least enabling such prejudice, which perhaps shows just how deeply ingrained it is. Amazingly, this is the first I've heard about it! Thank you for calling America out!

It misses the point to debate where it came from, who's guilty, who's innocent etc... when we should be outraged over the very idea that you can use the name "Hussein" as a smear in the first place. What we should be discussing is how this refelcts the sad state of modern american society: one still steeped in fear and ignorance.

As an African-American I am all too aware of the dangers of this kind of "invisible" prejudice. And with this kind of ignorance being happily promoted in American culture it's not surprising many of them have unfavorable attitudes towards us. We are, unwittingly, further alientating and disparaging Muslims areound the world. And this kind of bigotry should be unnacceptable, but then again I guess you have to be aware of its existence to begin with!

That said, while I respect what you're doing here, I do think you're being unfairly harsh on Obama. We have to understand that one cannot both defend something and try to separate himself from somethign simultaneously. It's illogical and impossible. Barack is walking a tightrope with this issue. He risks jeopardizing his candidacy if he doesn't totally extricate himself from these rumors because, as I'm sure the writer of this piece knows, you have to be careful what you say. I sympathize with arabs and Muslims everywhere, but you shouldn't put that on Obama, given the circumstances he's in. Sadly, as much as it pains me to say it, coming too strongly to the defense of Muslims will only exacerbate his problems.

This is why I think it's imporant for socially aware, tolerant Americans to come to Obama's aid and do what Obama can't; remind ppl that there is a silent victim in all of this, and vigorously defend their right to exist in a world without hatred; hidden or otherwise.

John Forsythe

Pomona, CA

Mar 1 2008 - 1:10am

Web Letter

You left-wing extremists sound like the national news media with your fawning and excuse making for Obama. I don't have much use for neocons like Bush or McCain, but liberal Democrats like Obama and Clinton are just as guilty as they are of selling us out and promoting open borders and amnesty.

Robert Wayne

Lake Charles, LA

Mar 1 2008 - 12:50am

Web Letter

Thanks for the article, Ms. Klein; you are absolutely correct. What I have trouble understanding is why Mr. Obama does not spontaneously attack this as a slur against Muslims as well as himself. It seems so obvious.

My fear is that Obama and his campaign believe some sort of political calculus is required to "measure" the response. If that is the case, then we (or at least I) are supporting the wrong candidate.

Joseph Kennedy

N. Andover, MA

Feb 29 2008 - 8:57pm

Web Letter

I recall a photo of Calvin Cooledge in a Lakota Chief's headgear. Did that make him a "Native American"?

Tucano Fulano

Big Bear, CA

Feb 29 2008 - 5:47pm

Web Letter

I entirely agree with Ms. Klein's assessment that one's religious affiliation should not become a political albatross in an election campaign, whether you are Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, or what have you. There's a high need to educate ourselves on the contextual subtleties that define our pluralistic society, which goes hand in hand with increasing our global awareness. But in a sad and strange way, the timing and venue of a campaign election is a problematic place to make such a stance.

As lofty a goal as Ms. Klein proposes, it doesn't address the immediate political realities of a campaign election. As a Korean American who sees little representation from his own ethnic group, I'm well aware of some of the realities behind why it's so difficult for minorities to get representation in terms of elected officials along ethnic lines.

The problem lies in the fact that Senator Obama, as the minority candidate, has the extremely difficult position of having to create the perception of being a political "everyman" devoid of ethnocentric interest while at the same maintaining pride (but not too much) in embracing his ethnic identity. If he pulls too far one way, he might be seen as a "sell-out" candidate for whites; if he pulls too far the other way, he could be perceived as a fringe candidate for black minorities, or by proxy, minority issues in general (i.e., rallying to the plight of misrepresented Muslims).

A white candidate, being part of the dominant ethnic power in the United States, has the luxury of appearing "impartial" when dispensing political action among the various minority groups to which he or she must pay lip service to in order to get elected. It is a rare case where a white politician gets accused of being "too white" or "not white enough."

Taking up issues of race could send Senator Obama precipitously down a public perception that destabilizes this difficult balancing act. When it comes down to it, mainstream America doesn't like to engage at length or in depth with the tumult of interethnic issues.

It's entirely regrettable that we still live in a country where even the hint of having Muslim ties (regardless of their lack of truthfulness) would have to be the object of instant condemnation by a prominent politician such as Senator Obama.

But let's not forget the difficult tightrope he has to walk in order to convince average Joe American that he can be just as much the "everyman" candidate as the next white guy.

There are too many people out there like Bill Cunningham (referring to his recent rhetoric in effusively invoking Obama's middle name "Hussein") and whoever "leaked" the photo of Senator Obama in Kenyan garb, who are well aware of his particular dilemma are able to exploit it through their cynical distortions, a kind of guerrilla racism that is ultimately meant to divide as opposed to unite our multicultural society.

Edward Pontee

Jackson Heights, NY

Feb 29 2008 - 9:18am

Web Letter

I have no proof but I shouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the anti-Muslim innuendoes about Obama came from the Israel Lobby. They are gearing up to claim that he will not be friendly to Israel. You can expect this line from Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and the rest of the Zionist-integrist neocon crowd. Lord, if only Obama had the guts to give Israel the ultimatum all American presidential candidates should give: obey UN resolutions or stop expecting American aid! Unfortunately, neither Obama nor Clinton nor McCain have the cojones for telling the truth about Israel and the Middle East.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Feb 29 2008 - 9:09am

Web Letter

While Naomi Klein's point is well taken--being called Muslim should not be considered a slander--I think she is not giving enough credit to Obama, nor is she putting these false rumors in the proper context.

In terms of Obama's response, he has not just said that Muslims deserve respect, he has also--on a number of occasions--spoken out against the scapegoating of Muslims, along with the scapegoating of immigrants and gay people. While not an explicit repudiation of the notion that being called Muslim is a slander, it is pretty darn close.

And in terms of the context: the subtext of these rumors about Obama's religion is that he is a "Manchurian candidate" who supports Islamic extremism and terrorism. This is also the subtext of the stories about the Nation of Islam, Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground and Obama's supposedly "racist" church. The claim that he is Muslim is rarely made in isolation from these other claims, and therefore should not be considered in isolation from this broader--truly slanderous--context.

Amanda Armstrong

Chicago, IL

Feb 28 2008 - 4:28pm

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