The Great Debate UK
(Photo: An honor guard trumpeter plays during the ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York September 11, 2010/Chris Hondros)
Amid threats of Koran burning and a heated dispute over a planned Muslim cultural center in New York, Muslim leaders and rights activists warn of growing anti-Muslim feeling in America partly provoked for political reasons. "Many people now treat Muslims as 'the other' -- as something to vilify and to discriminate against," said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union. And, he said, some people have exploited that fear in the media, "for political gain or cheap notoriety."
The imam leading the project to build the cultural center, including a prayer room, near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks said there was a rise of what he called "Islamophobia" and the debate had been radicalized by extremists. "The radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they've been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an interview with ABC news aired on Sunday.
Mistrust of Muslims has grown in recent years. A Pew poll released in August found the number of Americans with a favorable view of Islam was 30 percent, down from 41 percent in 2005. American feelings about Islam are partisan -- 54 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Islam compared to 27 percent of Democrats. In November 2001 there was not the same partisan divide of opinions on Islam.
Some believe Obama could convert minds were he to mount the type of public relations campaign which saw Bush attend mosques and talk with Muslim leaders back in 2001. Alan Cooperman of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said, "Americans' opinions of Muslims became more positive after 9/11 than they were before 9/11."
There's been a lot of discussion over the past few months on this and other blogs about Barack Obama and religion. Looking back at it now that the campaign is over and he is starting to shape his administration, it's interesting to see how many of those discussions shed little light on what he would actually do. There were comments about him being a hidden Muslim, for example, or not a real Christian. That speculation seemed based on thin evidence and the assumption he was running for preacher and cleric-in-chief rather than president and commander-in-chief. As a journalist covering religion in public life, after learning whether a candidate professes a certain faith, I want to know how that faith will really influence his or her decisions in office. This is not necessarily the same as listing the soundbite positions used on the campaign trail. (Photo: Barack Obama at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, 15 June 2008/John Gress)
Seen from this point of view, probably the most interesting fact about Barack Obama's religious views is one that rarely gets mentioned. It's that he's an admirer of the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The President-elect has clearly named "America's leading public theologian" as a major influence on his thinking. It comes out less in specific positions than in the way he looks at problems and discusses policies in terms with a "Niebuhrian" ring about them.