A new poll from Pew Research has demonstrated the success of rightwing propaganda in the US: Growing numbers of Americans think President Barack Obama is Muslim, fewer know that he’s Christian and the biggest percentage say they “don’t know” what his religion is.
Specifically, the poll found that 18% of Americans incorrectly believe the president is Muslim (up from 11%), only 34% correctly said Obama is Christian (down from 48%) and a whopping 43% claimed they didn’t know what his religion is (up from 34%). This indicates that rightwing propaganda, falsely claiming he’s Muslim, is working, increasing both the percentage who think he’s Muslim as well as creating doubt in the minds of a great many more.
What’s wrong with Americans? How can they be so stupid?
The answer, of course, is the constant drumbeat from the far right, especially the teabbaggers, that the president is Muslim. It’s part of the reason why their official party, the Republican Party, has been working so hard to sow fear and loathing of Muslims and Islam generally: It suits their political ends.
Bill Burton, a White House spokesperson, told the media that the American people are too busy worrying about other, big issues, and "are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is." Have they not seen Fox “News”? Have they not seen the signs at teabagger rallies? Are they unaware of the rhetoric on rightwing websites—or even the comments on mainstream news sites? Of course they are, but they’re trying to correct Americans while not attacking them for believing rightwing B.S. That’s as it should be.
But what of the mainstream media? What hope is there for Americans to know the truth, when the AP story reporting on this irresponsibly begins: “The White House insisted on Thursday that President Barack Obama is a Christian who prays daily as it looked to tamp down growing doubts among Americans about the president's religion.” [emphasis added]. “Insisted”? Really, AP? You mean you don’t believe him either? The word “inisisted” implies they’re saying something that isn’t, or may not be—true, and the AP bloody well knows that.
But for me, the more offensive aspect to this story is the implicit assumption that the US president must not only be religious, but must be Christian. Many religious people are as offended by the assumption of overt religiosity as are the non-religious, all of whom value the separation of church and state as a core principle of the American republic. Indeed, Pew also found that 52% of Americans feel that churches should stay out of politics (a steady proportion), but a shocking 43% disagreed (down from 45%). In other words, far too many Americans feel religion should interfere in politics.
The United States was never founded as, nor intended to become, a Christian nation. The founders were as suspicious of control by a church as they were control by government and they fought to keep the two firmly separated. These days, the rightwing has mounted an all-out war on that cherished principle, seeking to make not just religion the centre of US government, but Christianity specifically.
Which is why their war on Islam is not mere xenophobia, racism or religious bigotry: They know that true religious liberty would mean freedom for all religions, including Islam, and they cannot allow that—it would keep them from having absolute power. It would also mean the freedom to have no religion, and they cannot allow that threat to their power, either. That’s why they foster the assumption that being Muslim is always bad, a Muslim president even worse, and overt Christianity is the only permissible condition for a president—or American.
I see no easy or immediate cure to this problem. Propaganda (aka outright lies) works, as this poll shows. Or, as Adolf Hitler put it, people “more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie…”