So, what if he were a Muslim?! or On Intolerance and National Security

Rock on Colin Powell!

I think the most important aspect of the General’s much talked about endorsement of Barack Obama on Meet the Press today was his head-on repudiation of the despicable whisper campaign to spread the misconception that Obama is a Muslim (ironically — or not — enough, similar to another presidential disinformation campaign in recent memory):

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say and it is permitted to be said. Such things as: “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.”

Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He has always been a Christian.

But, the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country?

The answer is no, that’s not America.

Amen! If you haven’t watched the whole thing, you really should — it’ll make you want to write in Colin Powell in November. 

In the immortal words of Sarah Silverman: “Yes, Barack Hussein Obama, it’s a super-fucking-shitty name. But, you’d think that somebody named Manischewitz Guberman might understand that.” Otherwise put, we are a nation of immigrants, a conglomeration of people who represent ethnicities, cultures, and religions from all over the world. This country began as a safe-haven from religious persecution, and made history by being the first to enshrine measures against intolerance (i.e. separation of church and state) in its founding documents. The sad irony of the long and violent history of xenophobia in America is that it is generally the last people to be shit on who are first in line to shit on the new arrivals. It’s like the frat boys (full disclosure: I was in a fraternity 😉 ) who haze the pledges because they had themselves been hazed.

But in this case, this latent anti-Muslim sentiment being exploited isn’t just un-American, it is a threat to our national security. Not just our nation, but our entire way of life, is under siege by Islamic Fundamentalism. However, the operative word here is the second, fundamentalism, *not* the first. We are not being attacked by Muslims, we are being attacked by fundamentalists, who happen to be hiding behind the banner of Islam. They are painting the western world, led by the US, as modern day Crusaders intent on wiping Islamic culture from the earth. We, they argue, are the ones who have made this an all-or-nothing battle for the very survival of Islam — it is *our* intolerance and need for Judeo-Christian culture to dominate that dictates the inability for our two worlds to peacefully coexist. So, for Americans to let the heinous acts of extremists foment mainstream intolerance of Muslims in our country is truly to let the terrorists win.

I believe the true front-line in the “War on Terror” is not on the ground in Iraq or Tora Bora, it is ideological. There is no doubt that we must find and bring to justice the leaders of these terrorist organizations. That is absolutely necessary, but it is also far from sufficient. Because without winning the ideological battle, new leaders will spring up to replace them. The only way to truly win the war for the possibility of peaceful coexistence is to starve these organizations of their oxygen — to take away the support of the people. It is not Osama Bin Laden who is blowing himself up at US checkpoints in Iraq, and it is not true believers who are providing food and supplies to the Al Qaida leadership hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. The Fundamentalists have successfully convinced an ever growing portion of the Muslim world — the individual people, not the governments — that it is us or them, and the support of those people is the true source of their strength.

More than 20% of the world’s population is Muslim, including over 150M Muslims in each Pakistan and India, both with nuclear weapons, and 70M in Turkey, which is likely to become a member of the EU in the next 15 years. And in France, the Muslim population is estimated to be as high as 10% (the French census doesn’t ask religion). Our way of life cannot survive if we continue to let the Fundamentalists’ campaign of disinformation persist, or even worse, if we contribute to it. We must demonstrate to the people of the Muslim world, with our words and our deeds, that ours is a culture of tolerance and that there is another choice beyond having their culture destroyed or supporting terrorists. And, the responsibility to spread this message of coexistence does not just lie with our governments, it is ours as citizens as well.

Some links of note:

<update>
Credit where credit’s due. As much as I like to malign cable news, props to CNN’s Campbell Brown for tackling this issue (with an almost identical title) before Colin Powell (and even before The Daily Show!). Thanks Sean for the find.
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