By RANNIE AMIRI
After verifying that a Google search yielded no results, I decided to take the liberty myself and inject the term Islamobamaphobia into the language and discourse of the 2008 United States presidential campaign.
Before proposing a definition though, it is first important to understand its origin and derivation from the more familiar word, ‘Islamophobia’.
Islamophobia was actually coined well before Sept. 11, 2001, and is simply defined as the fear of, or aversion to, Islam and/or Muslims. A formal analysis of it was undertaken in 1996 by the Runnymede Trust, a United Kingdom think tank promoting multiculturalism and diversity. Authored by the Commission of British Muslims and Islamophobia on their behalf, Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All was published in 1997 (1).
The report laid out eight features characteristic of Islamophobia. Included among them is the perception that Muslims are the “separate and other – not having any aims or values in common with other cultures” and, exhibiting a “hostility towards Islam used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.”
So what then is Islamobamaphobia?
It is the fear that Barack Obama is, or might be, sympathetic to the issues and concerns of Muslims. Importantly, it also describes Obama’s subsequent (and misguided) attempts to dispel that notion.
Initially of course, the fear was that Obama himself was Muslim. The idea was promulgated by the Hillary Clinton campaign in a variety of ways. He was portrayed as the “separate and other” articulated by Runnymede. The confusing juxtaposition of this anxiety with overt Islamophobia managed to find its way onto the July 21st cover of The New Yorker (2).
Although a small but not insignificant portion of the U.S. population still harbors suspicions he is Muslim, it is now far outweighed by the terror that Obama may be inclined to deal with Muslims, or the Muslim world, in a fair and even-handed manner.
Obama has done his utmost to shatter any such illusions quickly, whether it was in his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in promising all of Jerusalem to Israel as its undivided capital, or by his vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill giving retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies complicit with the Bush administration’s policy of warrantless wiretapping.
Indeed, evidence of the veracity of Islamobamaphobia’s corollary—that Obama himself has become a perpetrator of Islamophobia in order to distance himself from suspicions that he may treat Muslims equitably—is overwhelming.
“Fight the Smears”
In the “Fight the Smears” section of his website, Obama disparagingly refers to the belief that he is Muslim as a “smear” rather than a mischaracterization, implicitly demonizing those who do adhere to the faith. Despite objections voiced about such terminology, the word ‘smear’ has not been removed.
Not in my picture
At a June campaign rally in Detroit, two women wearing the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, were barred from sitting behind Obama’s podium and therefore appearing in full view of the cameras covering the event (3). The campaign denied there was a specific policy prohibiting Muslims from being seen with Obama. This is belied by the fact, however, that two different campaign volunteers—in two separate incidents—prevented each of the women from being seated in the backdrop of a major and televised event.
“The message that I thought was delivered to us was that they do not want him associated with Muslims or Muslim supporters,” said one of the women.
Again, according to Runnymede report, one of the hallmarks of Islamophobia is “…discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.”
Obama did call to extend his apologies to them, but only after he was confronted by an irate Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first American Muslim congressman, in a closed door session of the Congressional Black Caucus (4).
Thanks, but no thanks Rep. Ellison
Ellison himself had already been rebuffed by Obama when he offered to speak on his behalf at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (5). According to Ellison, an Obama aide showed up at his Washington office to explain that the reason they did not want him was because they had “…a very tightly wrapped message.” He was also forced to cancel stops for the senator in “conservative” North Carolina.
Despite many engagements held with both Christian and Jewish groups in churches and synagogues, Obama has yet to hold a single public event in a mosque or speak to Muslims in any venue for that matter. The strategy of ignoring the American Muslim community could very well backfire in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all of which have significant Arab and Muslim constituencies and are keys to winning the November election. Realizing this, it appears that he has just appointed a “national coordinator” for Muslim and Arab-American affairs.
No green ties allowed
In a bizarre story reported by Politico, Obama apparently banned anyone from wearing green clothing during his recent trip to Jordan, Israel and Ramallah, fearing it may be associated with Hamas (6).
The story quotes Mohamad Bazzi, professor of journalism at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday as saying “I guess green is the ‘Hamas color’— but it's also the color of Islam! That's one way for the Obama campaign to alienate 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide.”
Richard Bulliet, professor of Middle Eastern history at Columbia University, described the order as being “…overcautious to a ridiculous degree.”
Such extreme, misplaced and irrational behavior on the part of Obama goes well beyond acknowledging the proverbial political climate of the day. It is manifest discrimination which negates the “hope” and “change” he purports to bring to the White House should he become president.
When it comes to Islamophobia—or now more aptly named Islamobamaphobia—Barack Obama has been both its victim, and ever increasingly, its villain.
Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri (at) yahoo.com.
1. "Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All" (summary). Runnymede Trust, 1997.
3. “Muslims barred from picture at Obama event.” Ben Smith for Politico.com, 16 June 2008.
4. “Muslim Lawmaker Confronted Obama Behind Closed Doors on Head Scarf Gaffe.” The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, 23 June 2008.
5. “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama.” The New York Times, 24 June 2008.
6. “Obama ban: What not to wear where?” Carrie Budoff Brown and Ben Smith for Politico.com, 21 July 2008.