We already know the numbers. Pew finds that 18% of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. A new Newsweek poll, taken after the controversy over the New York mosque, places that figure at 24%. Even if he’s not a Muslim, Newsweek finds, 31 percent think it’s “definitely or probably” true that Obama “sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.”
When the focus is narrowed to Republicans, a Harris poll finds 57 percent of party members believe he is a Muslim, 22% believe he “wants the terrorists to win,” and 24% believe he is the Antichrist.
These figures sadden me with the depth of thoughtlessness and credulity they imply. A democracy depends on an informed electorate to survive. An alarming number of Americans and a majority of Republicans are misinformed. The man who was swept into office by a decisive majority is now considered by many citizens to be the enemy. Some fundamentalists believe he is the Antichrist named by Jesus in the Bible.
It is much easier to attack someone if you believe in lies about them. It has always been easier to generate strong feelings, including hate, by ginning up untruths. We have been seeing this grow a lot recently.
For so many people to be so sure about something that is so wrong indicates a purpose behind the spreading of those lies. And abetting the spreading lies is a powerful way for people to gain power, as we continue to see.
As Ebert says:
This many Americans did not arrive at such conclusions on their own. They were persuaded by a relentless process of insinuation, strategic silence and cynical misinformation. Most of the leaders in this process have been cautious to avoid actually saying Obama is a Muslim. They speak in coded words and allow the implications to sink in. I recently watched Glenn Beck speaking at great length about Obama’s Muslim father, but you would not have learned from Beck that the father, who Obama met only once, was not a practicing Muslim in any sense.
Or how about the cover of Newsweek?
See how the point that these are all lies – the asterisk – is completely overshadowed by the lies? The media bears a lot of responsibility for the confusion of reasonable people and the certainty if the misled. But a lot of leaders also need to do a lot more work.
I think I agree with Ebert that the responsible leaders in our country need to put a stop to these lies whose only purpose is to divide American from American in order to gain political power. We need a ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment and the media will only play it out if it is a big deal and not little piecemeal bits here and there.
The time is here for responsible Americans to put up or shut up. I refer specifically to those who have credibility among the guileless and credulous citizens who have been infected with notions so carefully nurtured. We cannot afford to allow the next election to proceed under a cloud of falsehood and delusion.
We know, because they’ve said so publicly, that George W. Bush, his father and Sen. John McCain do not believe Obama is a Muslim. This is the time — now, not later — for them to repeat that belief in a joint statement. Other prominent Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also certainly do not believe it. They have a responsibility to make that clear by subscribing to the statement. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh must join, or let their silence indict them. Limbaugh in particular must cease his innuendos and say, flat out, whether he believes the President is a Muslim or not. Yes or no. Does he have evidence, or does he have none? Yes or no.
To do anything less at this troubled time in our history would be a crime against America.
Making decisions that depend upon lies, innuendo and fabrications will be a sure path to failure for the United States. It is a measure of how poorly led we are that so many people base their world on falsehoods. When the truth does not suffice to move a country, then that country will fall behind.
Decisions based on lies will not help us. Decisions based on truth will not hurt us. Which will we choose?