Even if you actively avoid paying attention to politics, you might still have accidentally stumbled across the recent news of General Colin Powell’s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama. The endorsement was covered extensively. But during the course of his interview on Meet the Press, Powell made a statement that was arguably much more important than his preferred presidential pick, and yet it went almost entirely unreported in the news.
During Powell’s discussion of the relative merits of John McCain and Barack Obama and their respective parties, he said:
“I’m also troubled by what members of the [Republican] party have been saying … such things as ‘well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’” Well the correct answer is no he’s not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of [the Republican] party drop the suggestion that he’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists….This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”
Bravo to General Powell, and shame on everyone else who didn’t say it sooner.
Almost immediately after Obama entered the race for president, his opponents began to circulate rumors that he was Muslim. When people suggest that Obama is Muslim, it isn’t a casual observation of his supposed religious belief. The unspoken next sentence is “therefore he cannot be president.” Of course we all know that a person’s religious faith is not a condition for holding the office of the president. Yet we tacitly accept that “he is a Muslim” is a proper reason for excluding him. Why has it taken almost two years for someone to stand up and say “So what if he is?”
When we remain silent, when we allow this and other types of religious bigotry to go unchallenged, we diminish this country. We diminish the American Dream, and we diminish ourselves.
Freedom of Religion, a phrase we all know and use, is a core value in this country. And Freedom of Religion doesn’t mean Freedom of Christians. Unless you are a Puritan, you are a beneficiary of this ideal. And it applies equally to all of us. Americans of every religion and no religion at all fight in our wars and die for the American dream. They work in our offices and teach in our schools. They are our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends. And they are every bit as American as those who sit in church pews on Sundays.
In America, any child can grow up to be president. Any child. This campaign season has given us all renewed hope in that uniquely American dream. Regardless of who wins on Nov. 4, it will be a transformative moment in our history. We will have either a black man, or a woman at the highest level of our government. That’s a fact. And there is no going back. Perhaps we have not quite reached the point where there is no racism or sexism in this country, but we are making progress. For some reason, we haven’t yet mustered the collective courage to stand up in the face of religious intolerance. General Powell has bravely opened the door, and now is the time for all of us who believe in the real America to stand up together and say “no” to bigotry of every kind.
Rhonna Kallendar is a Sammamish resident and a member of the Reporter editorial board.