I am a Jewish American and an enthusiastic Barack Obama supporter. I can’t tell you how much I hope he’ll be our next president.

But for all my longing for change and insistence that “yes we can,” there’s a bee in my bonnet, a sense of real dissonance between the Obama rhetoric and the reality: the Muslim thing.

Not the idea that he might be one. No, what has me so bothered is that an American presidential candidate acts as if the word “Muslim” were a slur. And according to recent reports, the Muslim community is feeling the sting, too.

I suppose I understand. Many Americans don’t trust Islam; Pew Research recently found that 45% would be less likely to vote for a Muslim presidential candidate.

Moreover, Muslims make up a small, wildly diverse constituency, with no clout, and no other candidate to vote for (unless they’d consider someone who plans on being in Iraq for a century).

In the face of Republican fear-mongering, it was probably easy to demote the ideal of inclusion.

Instead, the campaign discusses, endlessly, the candidate’s Christianity; the third item on its “Fight the Smears” Web site reads: “Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim.” Months ago, Michelle Obama characterized references to her husband’s middle name, Hussein, a “fear bomb,” and recently, two Muslim women were kept from standing behind him at a rally.

Honestly, there’s something noxious in all this — as if Obama isn’t proudly declaring his own faith, but running as fast as he can from the other.

Islam is an uplifting, ancient religion, rooted in a search for justice on God’s Earth. Diversity is both a Muslim’s lived reality (Islam is home to everyone from African Americans to Indonesians to Yemenites) and a goal: “O Mankind!” reads the Quran, Sura 49:13, “We created you … into nations and tribes, that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other.”

The Quran makes 150 references to forgiveness; interfaith activist and author Eboo Patel says he was brought back to the religion of his birth by the realization that “the core message of Islam is the establishment of an ethical, egalitarian order on Earth.”

Furthermore, American Muslims are American as apple pie. Pew found that 71% believe that “people who want to get ahead in the United States can make it, if they’re willing to work hard”; 63% see no conflict between living in modern society and leading a devout life. Possibly more to the point, three-quarters expressed concern about the global rise of Islamic extremism.

No American could be unaware of that extremism, and I, like the vast majority of my compatriots, find the nihilistic hatred preached by certain Muslims abhorrent and frightening. But as an American, I was raised to believe that we should judge people by the content of their characters, not the acts of others. I was raised to believe that in this country all are equal, everyone is innocent until proved guilty, and differences are to be respected, not despised. (MORE)


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