1.31.2007

When what's in a name doesn't sound as sweet.

My man Obama's been making the news lately, but not in a good way. It comes on the heals of claims that Obama is a closet Muslim; or that we can't elect someone with a Muslim-sounding name like Barack Obama ("Barak" means powerful blessing- no one objected when President Barak of Israel was in power, indicating it's common Semitic root); or even that his middle name is Hussein and therefore he is somehow tied to our arch-enemy-dictator. (Again, no one is bringing up the similarities between the first name of our current President and that of the evil King who wouldn't let the Colonies be free. In English and Arabic-influenced languages, both names are equally common.) It's mostly been the ultra-right-wing, but they are managing to plant doubts in people's minds, questioning "Did Obama truly give up Islam? Hsss." (He never was Muslim, but is actually an exceptionally devout Christian.) It's a subtle campaign, and a not-so-subtle campaign, to link Obama with terrorism, and therefore fear.

And now this. This past week a conservative online magazine, Insight Magazine, picked up the news that Obama had attended a madrasa when he was younger in Indonesia. They also suggested that this story was leaked to them by the Clinton campaign, who denies any involvement. Fox has of course found this to be a delightful story, and started running with it as fact- that Obama had been indoctrinated into fundamentalist Islam in his early years in a madrasa. While a VP at Fox has rebuked them for airing something online just because it's online (my former students, take note- Mr. Lee was not pregnant), evidently the Obama campaign is no longer giving Fox News first dibs at interviews.

I want to point out what is underlying all of this. While the school has made it clear that, no, it is not a training ground for Islamic radicals, Barack Obama did indeed attend a madrasa in his youth. For the Arabic word for school is "madrasa".

We've reached a point in our society where anything remotely related to Arabic culture, language, or the predominant religion there is suspect. There's a word for that, when we take common words in other languages and make them into something evil just because they're a foreign word; when we try to cast aspertions on someone because of their ethnic heritage or the ethnicity of their name. It's racism. It's Islamophobia. It's anti-Semitism. And it's evil.

The Far Right has taken this story and are repeating it, and repeating it, until moderate conservatives and the undecideds just might start to believe it. So that Americans will think of fear when they hear Obama's name, rather than hope. But fear is the mind killer. Some have learned FDR's words "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and decided the descriptive should become prescriptive. If the people aren't afraid, make sure they learn to be afraid.

In the meantime, for the last three years I taught biology at a school in North Africa, where Arabic was the dominant language. I therefore daily worked at a madrasa, and I loved it. I guess that makes me a terrorist as well.

2 comments:

Quaintance said...

Maybe not all things arabic, but all things we are aware are arabic. no one is calling that we use a new form of numbering, or adopt lettering that has no arabic basis. And what of science, esp. medicine, and the impact early arabic traditions have had?

We are such a foolish nation.

Joe said...

Apparently Homeland (In)Security thought you were a terrorist...