I hate the arc of the current discussion about the President's religion. First, polls show that a big chunk of Americans believe that Obama is Muslim. Next, the the White House issues this statement:
"President Obama is a committed Christian, and his faith is an important part of his daily life. He prays every day, he seeks a small circle of Christian pastors to give him spiritual advice and counseling, he even receives a daily devotional that he uses each morning."
Then Mitch McConnell goes on Sunday morning TV and makes a comment that suggests that this Republican is keen to seem mainstream without forfeiting the Obama-is-a-Muslim vote:
"The President says that he's Christian. I take him at his word."
Ever since 9/11, formal and public support for Islam has been mixed with a bubbling undercurrent of discomfort, resentment, and even hatred toward Muslims as a group. George W. Bush was being strategic, and perhaps even sincere, when he called Islam a "peaceful religion." But that didn't mean people took him seriously - many clearly did not. And President Obama came out in defense of the New York Islamic Center, sort of...even as his handlers made clear that calling him a Muslim was a calumny.
To be clear, many opponents of the New York Islamic center aren't motivated by deeply held anti-Muslim feelings. Perhaps many of those who think Obama is Muslim are cheered by his strong connection to the Koran. And it's hard to imagine that the "Obama could never be Muslim" contingent is hating on Islam. But something is going on in the broader culture. Like a rising river, anti-Muslim sentiments are beginning to jump the levees, spreading out across Village Americana.
Some folks have been waiting a long time for the moment when such hostility could finally come into the open. For certain people, this is a faith-based project. Southern Baptist leader Reverend Jerry Vines did, after all, call Mohammed a "demon-possessed pedophile." For others, it's a matter of collective retribution: Muslims caused 9/11 and the faith must now be called to judgment. And for others still, it's just a nice opportunity to indulge in group hatred during a period when public racism has become unacceptable and even homophobia - the last safe haven for those who love to hate - is slowly becoming taboo.
In Terrorism, Panic and Pedophilia, I offered a dystopian vision of an America where Muslims might be rounded up to protect the public. We're nowhere near realizing this nightmare. But as we learned in the aftermath of 9/11, it's not entirely unimaginable. And listening to the conversations about Obama and the Islamic community center in New York, I can't help feeling that - as Harry Blackmun once put it - a chill wind blows.