19 August 2010

Goebbels Was Right?

Or at least he would be if he actually said something frequently attributed to him: that if you tell a lie often enough, many people will eventually believe it. There's some mystery over whether the Nazi propaganda minister actually said this, and one researcher on the subject who has found quotes resembling the proverb from both Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself notes ironically that in both cases the Nazis were citing what they claimed were successful instances of British propaganda at work. In any event, the United States in 2010 appears to offer fresh proof for the proposition in the form of poll results indicating that more Americans now believe that the President of the United States is a Muslim than did so last year. The increase is shown in a poll taken before the present "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy, while one taken after the issue hit the news shows an even larger number identifying Barack Obama as a Muslim. The number of Americans who claim to be uncertain about the President's religious affiliation has also grown.

Only 11% of those who call Obama a Muslim claim to have deduced it for themselves. The large majority of misbelievers on this point claim "the media" as their source for the info. We can guess what media those are, and only the most generous interpretation of their claims -- attributing them to paranoid delusions, for instance, --would absolve them from the charge of deliberately lying. There is even less reason (evidence doesn't even enter the discussion) to suspect that Obama is a closet Muslim than there is to suspect that he wasn't born in the United States. Someone might have a hunch about the President's religion, but if he can't back it up with facts his hunch is no better than a lie. Unfortunately, one of the tenets of Islamophobia is that Muslims are licensed to lie about their faith in a hostile environment, so a complete lack of positive evidence of Muslim practice by the President would not satisfy the accusers, if their suspicions were sincere. Even if Obama drew a picture of Muhammad on the cover of a Qur'an and then burned it, some Americans would say he was shamming. To them, he is irredeemably alien, and calling him a Muslim is just the more politically correct way of saying so, and a more effective way in the 21st century than the old-fashioned method of Red-baiting.

One of the surveys cited in the linked article also tracked Americans' attitudes toward religion in politics. Those polled opined that both major political parties seemed less friendly toward religion in general than they were thought to be two years ago. But most people must be satisfied with that, since the poll revealed that, for the first time since the 1990s, a majority believes that "churches should stay out of politics." Meanwhile, regardless of what religion they believe the President to practice, a strong plurality of those surveyed say that he lets his faith influence his policies by "the right amount," while only 11% say he is too strongly influenced by religion. I'd be interested to know how many of that 11% think he's a Muslim. For the 18-24% of Americans who think he is, I suspect, the concern isn't so much the religion itself as it is the possibility that the President is one of the enemy. That's what his enemies want us to suspect. They're not just his enemies, however. Regardless of their own political agenda, if they think they can undermine a presidency with a campaign of lies, that makes them enemies of all the American ideals they pretend to defend. Their success would only undermine the world's confidence in a people's ability to govern themselves reasonably in a democratic republic. But this week's poll results alone are a disgrace to American civilization.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So perhaps you should borrow a concept from Time magazine and elect the American people as the winners of the first annual "Idiot of the Year" award.