Anderson Cooper got hoorahs for “doing his homework” and “destroying” Mark Williams, during their interview earlier this week. Williams was relatively unknown as a radio host and FNC regular until he became a national leader of the “Tea Parties” happening all over the country in protest of Obama’s healthcare reform. He’s been making his rounds at CNN the last few days, and spoke with Anderson Cooper about the controversial happenings at the Tea Parties.
After Williams denounced the racist signs that have been shamelessly displayed at the protests, Anderson blindsided him by quoting his blog, where he refers to Obama as “an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist-in-chief.”
The interaction then goes as follows:
Williams: “Yeah, that’s the way he’s behaving.”
Cooper: “Do you believe he’s Indonesian? Do you believe he’s a Muslim? Do you believe he’s a welfare thug?”
Williams: “He’s certainly acting like it.”
The confrontation then dwindles down and the conversation drifts to calm discussion about the nature of the protests.
What remains unaddressed though, in this interview and in mainstream media since Obama’s religious identity was ever an issue, is the blatant racism from both parties against people of Muslim faith. Unrecognized by Cooper and by anyone who went on to blog about the interview afterward is how Williams used the words “Indonesian Muslim” in a degrading and overall negative manner. By not condemning Williams for using those words in such a context, the mainstream media is making it acceptable to associate Muslims with such negative terms as “welfare thug” and “racist in chief.” If any other nationality or religion were to be replaced, there would be an unbelievable amount of outrage. But for whatever reason, when we use the word Muslim, it’s an acceptable synonym for extremist and irrational.
By asking Williams if he actually believes Obama is Indonesian or Muslim, Anderson Cooper is not only failing to confront Williams for his prejudice against an entire population, but he’s also obliging in the racist discourse against Muslims, and giving credibility to an argument that is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand (which is, if you can believe it, supposed to be healthcare).
However, the media cannot adequately fight for a cause that even the President and his administration shy away from. Achieving justice for the Muslim image in the media is difficult, if not impossible, because even the government contributes to the stigmatization of the Muslim faith.
Since the beginning of his run for presidency, Obama has sprinted away from, in fear of political ruin, any notion that he is a Muslim or is associated with Islam. Two incidents stand out in my mind as particularly disappointing.
In June of 2008, there was an incident in which two Muslim women wearing headscarves were prohibited from standing behind Obama during a televised rally in Detroit, his campaign volunteers fearful that they would project the wrong image to mainstream America:
A few months later, in October, a political storm erupted around Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia professor of Middle East studies and passionate defender of Palestinian rights (and rumored to have worked with the PLO, though the rumor was later concluded to be false). Obama had apparently spoke at a dinner in 2003 that honored the scholar (the two had become friends in the late 80s when Khalidi was a professor at UChicago). When confronted by Jewish voters in Florida about his association with the professor, Obama stutters before saying “I do know him, he is not one of my advisors.” The two had known each other for 20 years at that point. However, once the election began, Khalidi could no longer be referred to as a friend – only dismissed as an acquaintance in an effort to win the affections of our dear Jewish grandparents in Boca Raton who were afraid they would be electing an anti-Semite to office:
And though he has been the President for 9 months now, a link remains on Obama’s webpage to fight off the associations. It is a “fact check action center” called “Fight the Smears,” in which irrelevant and polarizing rumors like “Barack Obama Won’t Say the Pledge of Allegiance/Put His Hand Over His Heart” are addressed and followed by the truth.
There are several “smears” which discuss the rumor that Obama is a Muslim. But fortunately, the fact check center tells us “the truth about Barack Obama’s faith.” This is how they systematically debunk the rumors:
There is one thing that remains unaddressed in this entire vehicle of truth: the fact that we live in America, and Muslims, along with people of any other religion, are allowed to be President. By so adamantly and repeatedly denying these rumors, Barack Obama is telling the truth. However, he is also perpetuating the implication that a Muslim should never or could never make it to the White House. He shouldn’t be confronting the media for calling him a Muslim, he should be confronting them for even presenting it as a relevant question.
So for once, the media isn’t entirely to blame for perpetuating a negative and detrimental connotation. Until the leader of the country can shout from the rooftops that there’s nothing wrong with being Muslim, we can’t expect our news anchors to put forward that notion either.
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