Wednesday, June 3, 2009

57 States in America, a Large Muslim Country (!)

I am trying to stretch my imagination enough not to burst out laughing at Barack Obama's latest blooper that "if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world".

American Muslim organisation have for years been attempting to stretch religious affiliation statistics to appear more politically influential. Estimates of America's Muslim population range from three to seven million. This is out of a total US population of 300 million. America is one of the world's most populous countries. It is not a populous Muslim country. The Islamic calendar does not shape the tone and flavour of the cultural mainstream the way Judaism does Israel or Islam does Malaysia.

The most populous Muslim country is Indonesia. About 86% of its 234 million people are Muslim.

There are about 150 million Muslims in India. than In Pakistan there are about 178 million people, over 95% of whom are Muslim . In India they are 12% of the population. To place America's demographics in perspective, Burkina Faso has more Muslims thandoes the United States. Its estimated 7.5 million Muslims are half of Burkina Faso's population.

Barack Obama has merged the sciences of statistics and topology, stretching demographics into the most tangentially related familes of facts. Obama's misstatement of America's religious demographics is on the same level as his claim to have visited "57 states." Perhaps it might be possible for Obama to publish an almanac of Obama factoids.

What was behind what can only be described as Obama's latest gaffe? Obama's "57 state" gaffe can be written off to fatigue. His recent misstatement seems to have an element of attempting to curry favour with his hosts. Rather than being a well informed representative of his country, Obama is playing fast and loose with the facts to curry favour. America can boast of a wide range of religious tolerance. There are even enclaves where a minority faith is culturally dominant. But in the broad mainstream, Christianity casts a long shadow that is especially visible during the Christmas season. America's Jews and Muslims are grateful for the accommodation and acceptance of the majority. From the earliest days of American history, refugees from religious persecution formed the core of America's early population.

Every faith has its intolerant sects. The "Christian identity" movement seeks to provide a theology that is compatible with white supremacy and Jew hatred. Within modern day Christianity, it is a marginal movement.

The same can not be said of extremist forms of Islam which seem to derive their reason for existing from hatred of Jews and Israel. Most estimates place sects of Islam that are oriented towards terrorism at 10% of the total Muslim population. This subset of the total Muslim population is still well funded and active. And it still adds up to an estimated 100 million adherents. This needs to be addressed in any international dialogue.

Obama comes from a racially and religiously mixed background. He crosses sharply defined boundaries with an ease that does not come easy to many people. I understand a little bit of his world view because of my parent's being religiously mixed (Jewish and Catholic) This can be a source of understanding, but it can also create confusion. There are real differences between religions and nationalities that should be understood and not trivialised. It is possible to understand religious and national passions without being blinded by them.

I live in a neighbourhood with a considerable Muslim population. The sound of their calls to prayer and their demarcation of a new day at sunset both have a familiar ring to me. My life is typical of that of many Americans who are enriched by a proximity to other cultural groups. It is this achievement of diversity and coexistence that Obama should present to the world. One need not fudge the facts to present a bright picture of the United States.

President Obama needs more grounding in American statistics. He needs to stay with a coherent message and not get caught up in the spirit of an emotional moment. He probably needs more sleep. From what I hear, being President can be stressful.

America still has a solid Christian majority. It has 50 states and no prospect of seven additional stars on its flag any time soon. President Obama should remember that he is going abroad to represent America and not to entertain it. Whoever is programming his teleprompter should be aware of this as well.

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