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Creating the Muslim Manchurian Candidate
Posted on Mar 30, 2012
By John Feffer, TomDispatch
The day after he clinched the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, he gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in which he reaffirmed that he was “a true friend of Israel.” Although he would occasionally mention his Muslim relatives and the time he spent in Indonesia as a child, he generally did whatever he could to emphasize only two out of the three major monotheisms.
As president, Obama has certainly “reached out” to the Muslim world. In Cairo, in June 2009, he spoke of seeking “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.”
That new beginning, however, has yet to come. At home, for example, the Obama administration provided federal funds that the New York City Police Department then used to expand its surveillance of Muslim American neighborhoods. (Even the CIA was involved in this “human mapping” project.) The FBI has spent the Obama years rounding up suspected Muslim terrorists in operations that flirt dangerously with entrapment. The administration has expanded the no-fly list, though because the list is secret it’s difficult to know whether Muslim-Americans are specifically profiled. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that they are.
The administration’s record internationally is even more disappointing. The conduct of U.S. troops in Afghanistan—the night raids, massacres (including the recent murders of 16 Afghan villagers), and the Qur’an burnings—have enraged local Muslims. Obama has expanded the CIA’s drone air campaign by a considerable margin in the Pakistani borderlands. Civilian casualties, overwhelmingly Muslim, continue to occur there and in other “overseas contingency operations” as U.S. Special Operations Forces have dramatically expanded their activities in the Muslim world.
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It’s no surprise, then, that surveys in six Middle East countries taken just before and two months after the Cairo speech in 2009, the Brookings Institution and Zogby International discovered that the number of respondents optimistic about the president’s approach to the region had suffered a dramatic drop: from 51% to 16%. A 2011 Pew poll found that U.S. favorability ratings had continued their slide in Jordan (to 13%), Pakistan (12%), and Turkey (10%).
And yet, perversely, the hard right in the U.S. maintains that the Obama administration has behaved in quite the opposite manner. “There’s something sick about an administration which is so pro-Islamic that it can’t even tell the truth about the people who are trying to kill us,” Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich typically said while campaigning in Georgia.
Pro-Islamic? That’s news to the Islamic world.
But it’s nothing new to the world of the U.S. right wing, which portrays Obama as anti-Israel and weak in the face of Islamic terrorism. At best, the president emerges from these attacks as a booster of Islam; at worst, he is the leader of a genuine fifth column.
Although the administration’s policy on Iran is virtually indistinguishable from those of his Republican challengers, they have presented him as an appeaser. The president who “surged” in Afghanistan somehow becomes, through the magic of election-year sloganeering, a pacifist patsy. Although Obama never endorsed the location of the “Ground Zero mosque,” his opponents have suggested that he did. Although he was slow to withdraw support from U.S. allies in the Middle East like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia, Republican candidates have accused the president of practically campaigning on behalf of the Islamist parties that have grown in influence as a result of the Arab Spring.
Barack Obama, the right wing has discovered, does not have to be Muslim to convince American voters that he has a suspect, even foreign, agenda. They have instead established a much lower evidentiary standard: he only has to act Muslim.
For this, they don’t need a birth certificate. All they need are allegations, however spurious, that the president is in league with Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Arab Spring jihadists, and anti-Israel forces at home. This more subtle but no less ugly Islamophobia has already insinuated itself into the 2012 elections in a potentially more damaging way than did the overt disparagement of Obama’s religious bona fides back in 2008.
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