Islamophobia and the American Presidential Elections

Islam does not have a stellar reputation among the American public. While this can be traced back to decades of the systematic demonizing of Islam in the American media and politics, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center turned it into a problem that was not subconscious. The attitude in the United States went from an underlying distrust of Muslims and Arabs into an active prejudice and persecution of Islam and its followers. While this in itself was enough to make life in the United States impossible for millions of Muslims, the 2008 presidential elections truly took the racism and bigotry to another level.

Due to the general atmosphere of animosity against Islam, or anyone barely looking like someone from the Middle East in general, being called out as a Muslim could be quite harmful in the United States for one’s job prospects and position in the community. Republicans took advantage of this when trying to look at ways of attacking who was then the presidential candidate for the Democratic party, now president Barack Obama. More importantly for this issue, Barack Hussein Obama. Many Republican commentators, candidates, and pundits – particularly in Fox News – could simply not resist the opportunity to call out Barack Obama as un-American. By claiming that the clearly Christian Barack Obama was a “secret Muslim” they tried to garner the support of the right wing public, especially the older voters and those in the extreme right that today make up the Tea Party movement.

This was not done directly all the time. Although examples abound of media personalities referring to Barack Obama as a Muslim, or a foreigner in any case. However, there was a constant barrage of innuendo and smear campaigning. The same terms that had been used in Western Europe to attack Muslim immigrants were now an integral part of the right’s political strategy in the United States. Statements like “he’s not like us”, or “he doesn’t understand the American way of life” are thinly veiled racist comments that slowly and pervasively invaded American culture, suggesting in the public consciousness that Barack Obama is a Muslim. And in the United States, where being a Muslim is the considered by many as the polar opposite of everything good and decent, this was a very strong insult. Muslims in the United States can expect quite a lot more of this. It is clear that Barack Obama will be running for a second term in 2012 and the anti-Muslim attacks have already started. Some of the Republican candidates have already started to question his American citizenship once again. Muslims can probably expect an anti-Islamic climate leading up to the 2012 elections, just like in 2008. Let us hope that the fight focuses now on the economy or unemployment; in short, the real issues. However, if one looks at history, there isn’t much hope for that.

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