It seems that the American Muslim’s favorite President has let them down again by capitulating to Islamophobes in order to preserve his image during a hotly contested election. So much for “Hope” and “Change” … its just politics as usual. Our community needs to start organizing a serious response to these right-wing fanatics. Their tactics are having a chilling effect on the practice and portrayal of Islam and Muslims. If their smear campaigns can affect the President of the USA all the way in India, it shows you that they know have a global reach.
In any other political climate, a U.S. president’s visit to a historic Sikh temple and major Indian tourist attraction would be about as noncontroversial as a foreign state visit could get. The Sikhs, after all, practice a studiously inclusive, noncontroversial faith that shuns violent conflict of all kind.
However, President Barack Obama recently called off plans to stop at the Sikh Golden Templeat Amritsar when he visits India early next month.
And the reason reportedly has nothing to do with substantive matters such as the nature of the faith enshrined in the facility, or the state of India’s multi-religious mass democracy.
No, the determining factor, apparently, is the dread of White House advisers that photos would spread virally of Obama in an eastern land wearing the head covering required of all visitors to the Golden Temple.
[Photos: More images of Barack Obama]
There is precedent for such worries on the domestic U.S. political scene, of course. Even though Obama himself has publicly dismissed fringe political theories calling his U.S. citizenship into dispute, such impressions have stubborn staying power in the age of Internet conspiracy-mongering. And shots of Obama in foreign religious ceremonial gear are catnip to such theories–indeed, a previous photo of Obama wearing traditional Muslim garb surfaced at the height of his 2008 primary battle with Hillary Clinton, and by now may just be the most frequently forwarded email image in the history of forwarded emails.
As noted by the New York Times’ Lydia Polgreen, it had long been assumed that Obama would make a stop at the Golden Temple — which she describes as “a sprawling and serene complex of gleaming gold and polished marble that is the spiritual center of the Sikh religion” — during his four-day swing through India, which starts Nov. 6. Polgreen reports that American advance teams visited Amritsar to discuss a possible visit. But there was a roadblock: the requirement of a head covering.
“We are not making any special preparations for him, since everybody is equal in the eyes of God,” said S. Ram Singh, a member of the committee that runs the temple, according to a report in the Australiannewspaper. “It is our tradition to cover head while you are in [the temple] and even he will have to cover his head.”
Because the act of tying has spiritual significance in the Sikh religion, hats are frowned on — though a member of British royal family did tour the temple wearing a Panama hat. Most non-Sikh visitors to the temple wear bandana-like cloths sold by street vendors outside the temple, Polgreen writes in the Times.
“We have worked so hard to establish in America that Sikhs have a very different identity than Muslims,” H. S. Phoolka, a lawyer in New Delhi, told the Times. “It is very unfortunate that even the White House is conveying the message that there is no difference between Muslims and Sikhs.”
It’s unclear, at any rate, whether this sort of last-minute impression management can make much of a difference in a status quo that already has 1 in 5 Americans believing that the president is secretly a Muslim. What’s more, some of the president’s conservative detractors are retooling their message lately with efforts to literally demonize Obama. Earlier this week, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh pronounced: “Obama looks demonic.”
Maybe the president’s handlers should be monitoring the new crop of Obama Halloween costumes.
(File photo of a Maine yard sign from the 2008 presidential campaign: AP)