After Barack Obama’s historic election, there were significant voices on both sides of the Atlantic who talked about a post-racial world; a place in which the colour of one’s skin, or the religion one practiced would no longer hold any negative connotations in this brave new world.
Many of us here, whilst dancing with delight about the threshold that had been broken, acutely understood that it was not only misleading to talk about a post-racial America, but actually regressive because it meant the necessity to deal with racial inequalities was no longer needed. The facts, of course, have shown us otherwise.
One year and nine months later the American Right have galvanized around an issue – the Islamic centre, relatively close to ‘Ground Zero’ – which has the tenor and tone of a racist lynch mob. The most shocking part of the hyperbole was that the building of the centre had little or nothing directly to do with Ground Zero until a Ms Pam Geller paid some eight thousand dollars to link the centre with Ground Zero in the most inflammatory way: she placed ads on New York buses, using the shocking picture of a plane crashing into one of the twin towers juxtaposed with a mosque in the vicinity.
Not surprising – given the sensitivity, the posters caused strong emotions fueling rampant Islamaphobia and racism.
To his credit President Obama did not duck the issue. He could have done. After all he wasn’t making the decision as to whether the centre would obtain consent or not. And given its contentious nature, one would imagine his advisors telling him, ‘Mr. President, stay clear of this one’. But he didn’t. He told Americans what they as a nation stood for: religious freedom. The rabid racist dogs could now turn their attention to a President they never voted for or wanted. Spewing their pent up anger, along with a heavily biased media, 20% of the American public now believes their President is a Muslim.
Right-wing America now has a hate-filled bit firmly between its teeth and it’s both racist and Islamaphobic all wrapped up in one.
At times like this, hate can be a more powerful emotion than decency and fairness. As a result that dream of closer racial and religious harmony moves further away.
Ms Geller will no doubt believe that that was eight thousand dollars very well spent.
By Simon Woolley