As I noted in August, one in five Americans mistakenly believes that President Obama is secretly a Muslim. Yet more disconcerting than the fact that this propaganda has been so widely disseminated, is that one of Obama’s most recent strategies for combating the problem is simply giving in.
According to Lydia Polgreen at The New York Times, President Obama has decided not to visit The Golden Temple, not only a beautiful palace, but also the holiest site for Sikhs in India. Why not visit a prime symbol of India’s religious diversity—a gesture that could help further cement amicable relations between India and the United States? The question is one of appearances:
Sikh scriptures require that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads, not simply put on a hat that can be easily taken off, because the act of tying has spiritual significance. Most non-Sikh visitors tie on kerchiefs sold by vendors outside the temple.
It boils down to simple Public Relations 101: a fifth of the American people believe President Obama is a “closet Muslim”; the President’s 2008 campaign was plagued by pictures, leaked by his then Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton, of Obama in traditional Kenyan garb—turban and all. In an effort to stave off another media blitz and avoid offering up the propagandist, fringe Right easy ammunition, the White House has opted for a more defensive strategy. From a political PR standpoint, it’s an understandable move.
But that doesn’t make it right. In fact, not only should this deeply humiliate the President—who now seems too afraid of what “it may look like” if he observes the cultural norms of a holy site he is visiting—but it also is grievously offensive to Sikhs and Muslims worldwide. The Times quotes H.S. Phoolka, a Sikh lawyer in New Delhi: “It is very unfortunate that even the White House is conveying the message that there is no difference between Muslims and Sikhs.” The President of the United States should not care what lies fringe political pundits spread; he should not allow himself to be held hostage to their lunatic accusations.
We all know that Obama would not shirk away from waring a yarmulke during Yom Kippur at a Jewish service; to behave differently simply because of the political fear-mongering of misinformed bigots is a national embarrassment.