Stephen Colbert on Islam and Obama’s Muslim "Predilections"

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Shedding much-needed light on the level of fear among the American people (and inspiring a few guffaws in doing so), U.S. satirist Stephen Colbert, of the late-night satirical television news show The Colbert Report, discussed how nearly one in five Americans seem to think U.S. president Barack Obama is a Muslim, and explored possible ways for the president to prove his Christian beliefs to a public gluttonous for religiosity in their political leader.

Colbert first took a shot at the phobia gripping the public by pointing out some of the inherently Arabic, Islamic, or Middle-eastern customs and practices mistakenly taken for granted as Western: “Interesting side-note: one in five Americans also believe polls are Muslim—they do use Arabic numerals”. It makes one wonder how many anti-Muslim zealots actually know that the numerical system they use is Arabic in origin. It also makes one wonder how many Americans know that, while many innovators of algebra were Greek and its origins can be traced back to ancient Indian mathematics, the word algebra comes from the Arabic word al-jabr, meaning “restoration”, while many algebraic methods currently used in American high-school classrooms are also Arabic in origin. (But don’t expect the average high-school student to tell you this.)

But what was Colbert’s solution for Obama’s purportedly Islamic mien? The president, he suggests, just needs to try harder to foist his evangelical Protestant faith on the Bible-hungry masses—but with a savvy modern twist. “First of all, he needs to go to church. And I know that he has, but he needs to go to church harder! Maybe Twitter from the pew, or at least—at least carry a Bible wherever he goes. Like Jesus says in Matthew 5:47: ‘Pray big, or go home.'” (Actually, this notion of using technology for religious worship isn’t so novel after all. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the consecration of laptop computers and mobile telephones, the ritual blessing of motorcycles, and the relationship between spirituality and social networking.) But let’s not stop there. Why not urge the president to hold prayer meetings in the oval office, or lavish Christian-themed balls in the East Ballroom of the White House? Perhaps Michelle Obama can re-decorate the whole White House to replicate the set of the TBN series “Praise the Lord”, replete with ornate, gaudy, fake-gold chairs. Maybe then the American public will be satisfied the leader of their nation, founded on the official separation of church and state, is “Christian enough”. Oh, wait, there is that pesky little establishment clause of the First Amendment forbidding government endorsement of religion, which was set up by all those atheists and deists who helped found the United States.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Colbert also lampooned the barefaced hate, racism, and ignorance of the Ground Zero thugs who cornered a black man who looked Muslim. While a video clip ran showing the man trying to squirm his way through the crowd, the comedian sarcastically declaimed,

This gathering of peace-loving hate-lovers was ruined when a Muslim had the gall towalk through the crowd! There he is wearing his Islamic terror-hat and his al-Qaeda cosy fleece pullover. Luckily, there were some alert patriots who immediately shouted him down. Just listen to him respond by spewing his Muslim hate-speech: “You didn’t ask who I was. I want no trouble. […]. I’m not even Muslim!”

As it turns out, the poor man was just a black man named Kenny, one of the carpenters working on the construction of the new World Trade Center. All it takes it to wear the wrong clothing and have the wrong skin color to be vilified as a murdering jihadist—even if you are working on repairing the very structure destroyed by such jihadists.

If that isn’t enough to turn your stomach, some of the sophistries demonstrators were spewing will. At one point, the video reel depicted a man wearing an American flag headscarf and holding a sign that read “You can build a mosque at Ground Zero when we can build a synagogue in Mecca”. The witty Colbert retorted, “Not only a moving battle-cry, but also a very patriotic yarmulke.” But the sign’s message is underlyingly fallacious. The logic (if one can call it that) is basically as follows: “If we can’t practice religion freely on private property in your country, then you can’t practice religion freely on private property in our country. And yet the very reason we dislike you is because you object to democratic principles and civil rights such as practicing religion freely on private property.” This makes no sense. If the reason one dislikes another group is because that group does not cherish the same freedoms, it is nonsensical to mimic that group by denying the same freedoms. The logical, and magnanimous, thing to do would be to show Muslim fundamentalists the error of their ways by proving that they can practice religion freely on private property in the United States, not by mimicking the same error.

So there we have it, folks. Yet another delicious and satisfying morsel of satire flaying the skin off sugar-coated mock-patriotism and exposing it for what it is—plain old chauvinism. Oh, by the way. Newsflash: millions of Muslim children are at risk of cholera in the Pakistan floods, and a wave of deadly bombings has killed dozens of Muslim civilians in Iraq. But that’s just world news, and they’re just innocent Muslim civilians.


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