Don Rogers: Our casual prejudices |

Don Rogers: Our casual prejudices

Psssst: Barack Obama’s really a Muslim.

This whisper campaign somehow persists despite the fact otherwise. Obama’s faith is solidly Christian.

And so what? If he were Muslim, he’d be less of a candidate for the presidency? He’d be less of an American? That’s the implication, the reason for the dark whispers and the emphatic denials of the lie.

What interests me, and appalls me, about this is how America bears this casual prejudice against Muslims, particularly those with brown skin.

We’re mindful of the institutional racism against blacks that discriminated without conscience into the ’60s.

Nearly all of us get the evil of blanket racism against Hispanics and Jews, finally. Those who harbor prejudices of this sort at least understand that’s not something they want to declare publicly.

But our national consciousness treats Muslims as we thought of “Japs” in the World War II era. Blithely, blindly demonizing a whole population that included some very, very patriotic Americans whose bravery in combat was unparalleled.

We’re doing the same with another population, and it’s a bit scary. Well, if Islam is your faith, it’s really scary.

This crystallized for me while I had a long phone conversation with Ali Hasan’s parents a couple of weeks ago. Hasan is the exuberant Republican from Eagle County running for the state House seat held by his Democratic rival, Christine Scanlan.

He has a bigger challenge with the still-acceptable class biases held by people bitter about wealth, which also has little place in discussions about fitness for public office. I just read an editorial whose point seemed primarily to be that we should vote for Scanlan because Hasan is wealthy and lives, gasp, in Beaver Creek. Oh and he spent his own money on campaigning, which alone should disqualify him. (Lots of dollars are going Scanlan’s way too, of course, just not from her personally.)

There may be plenty of reasons to go with the Democratic incumbent over the Republican upstart, but that crap isn’t among them.

Neither is the fact that Hasan’s faith is Islam, a sister religion to Christianity with roots in the same early scriptures.

There are over a billion Muslims in this world, a tiny, tiny fraction of whom even in the Middle East have taken to terrorism. There were more “terrorists” per capita in Belfast not so many years ago than in Pakistan today, where Hasan’s parents grew up.

I’m personally worried more about Christian nuts in this country than the Muslim ones. There are so many more here who grew up Christian, the dominant religion in America, after all.

Our own nearly unconscious prejudices are nearly as worrisome. We haven’t advanced that far from the all-too-recent era of “blacks in the back, drink from your own water fountain, thank you very much, and by the way lynching is OK. Love, the KKK.”

My conversation with Hasan’s parents came from a letter to the editor. We had let slip a sentence or two that we would have recognized quickly as unpublishable had the phrasing been in the parlance of screeds against Spanish-speakers that still regrettably turn up in this valley.

The author is not dangerous, and probably was trying to be clever. We overlooked it. The Hasans helped me understand why this is a problem.

We discuss Muslims too casually and frankly callously in our politics. We better understand Obama’s other problem with lingering American prejudices, the fact that he’s half black.

That’s where we need to be in regard to Islam. After all, we managed to drop “Japs” a long time ago. That any of us whisper “Muslim” about Obama, as if that were a bad thing, shows how far we still have to go.

Don Rogers is the editor and associate publisher of the Vail Daily, Vail Trail and Eagle Valley Enterprise. He can be reached at 748-2920 or He welcomes your comments.

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