May 19, 2013
Creating the Muslim Manchurian Candidate
Posted on Mar 30, 2012
By John Feffer, TomDispatch
This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Those who fervently believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim generally practice their furtive religion in obscure recesses of the Internet. Once in a while, they’ll surface in public to remind the news media that no amount of evidence can undermine their convictions.
In October 2008, at a town hall meeting in Minnesota for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a woman called Obama “an Arab.” McCain responded, incongruously enough, that Obama was, in fact, “a decent family man” and not an Arab at all. In an echo of this, a woman recently stood up at a town hall in Florida and began a question for Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum by asserting that the president “is an avowed Muslim.” The audience cheered, and Santorum didn’t bother to correct her.
Though they belong to a largely underground cult, the members of the Obama-is-Muslim congregation number as many as one third of all Republicans. A recent poll found that only 14% percent of Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi believe that the president is Christian.
These true believers treat their scraps of evidence like holy relics: the president’s middle name, his grandfather’s religion, a widely circulated photo of Obama in a turban. They occasionally traffic in outright fabrications: that he attended a radical madrasa in Indonesia as a child or that he put his hand on the Qur’an to be sworn in as president. An even more apocalyptic subset believes Obama to be nothing short of the anti-Christ.
The conservative mainstream still calls the president’s religious beliefs into question, but they stop just short of accusing him of apostasy and concealment. What they consider safe is the assertion that Obama is acting as if he were Muslim. In this way, Republican mandarins are cleverly channeling a conspiracy theory into a policy position.
There is a whiff of desperation in all this. After all, it’s not an easy time for the GOP. The economy shows modest signs of improvement. The Republican presidential candidates are still engaged in a fratricidal primary. By expanding counterterrorism operations and killing Osama bin Laden, the president has effectively removed national security from the list of Republican talking points.
One story, however, still ties together so many narrative threads for conservatives. Charges that the president is a socialist or a Nazi or an elitist supporter of college education certainly push some buttons. But the single surefire way of grabbing the attention of the media and the public—as well as appealing to the instincts of the Republican base—is to assert, however indirectly, that Barack Obama is a Manchurian candidate sent from the Islamic world.
Obama and the Muslim World
A succession of Republican candidates have attempted to run to the right of party favorite Mitt Romney by asserting that only a true conservative can defeat Obama in November. Most of them boasted of the same powerful backer. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all declared that God asked them to run for higher office. Together with Newt Gingrich, they have deployed various methods of appealing to their constituencies, but none is more potent than religion.
Rick Santorum, a Catholic and the favorite of the evangelical community, has been particularly adept at using his soapbox as a pulpit. The president subscribes to a “phony theology,” Santorum has claimed, “not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.” Although he occasionally asserts that “Obama’s personal faith is none of my concern,” he nonetheless speaks of the president’s attempt to “impose values on people of faith”—implying that the president is certainly no member of that community.
In his attacks on the president’s spirituality, Santorum is cleverly attacking Mitt Romney’s Mormonism as well (a theology also based on text other than the Bible). At the same time, the suggestion that Obama is somehow “other” operates as a code word for “Black” in a race in which race goes largely unmentioned.
It’s an odd set of charges. Obama, after all, did everything possible during his first presidential campaign to foreground his Christianity. He was repeatedly seen praying in churches and assiduously avoided mosques. He never made a campaign appearance with a prominent Muslim. He talked about his “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ.
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