Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why Do Americans think Obama is a Moslem?

A Pew Research Center poll in August 2010 found that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Moslem—up from 11 percent in March 2009—even though he’s a practicing Christian, and the poll was conducted before Obama’s recent explanation that the US constitution supports freedom of belief, and that must apply to Moslems who want to rebuild an Islamic center which includes a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero, just as there are Christian churches and Jewish synagogues nearby.

So, what motivates Americans to believe President Obama is a Moslem? Spee Kosloff, a Michigan State University visiting professor of psychology, and colleagues suggests it is not just simple ignorance, it is because other clues remind them Obama is different from them. The obvious one is that he is the first black president and he is educated, but also that his father was a Moslem, and he lived with his anthropologist mother a while in Moslem Indonesia.

Kosloff argues judgments like these do not follow and are stimulated by “irresponsible” media that perpetuate the lies for less than honorable reasons.

Careless or biased media outlets are largely responsible for the propagation of these falsehoods, which catch on like wildfire. And then social differences can motivate acceptance of these lies.

The MU scientists started their study before the 2008 US presidential election, because the candidates were constantly being smeared by their opponents. It’s the first comprehensive experimental study of the psychological factors that motivate Americans to believe lies.

In four separate experiments, three before the election and one after, the researchers looked at both conscious and unconscious acceptance of political smears by mostly white, non-Moslem college students. For the conscious trials the participants were shown a false blog report arguing that Obama is a Moslem, or a socialist, or that John McCain is senile. The unconscious trials involved gauging how rapidly subjects could identify words meant as smears such as "Moslem" or "turban" after Obama’s name was presented subliminally. They found:

  1. Initially, among those who supported McCain, 56% guessed Obama was a Moslem. When they were asked to fill out a demographic card asking for their own race, the percentage jumped to 77%. So, simply thinking about a social category that differentiated participants from Obama was enough to get them to believe the smear.
  2. Participants undecided about the candidates said there was a 43% chance McCain was senile—a number that increased to 73% when asked to list their own age on a card.
  3. Undecided participants said there was a 25 percent chance Obama was a socialist—a number that jumped to 62 percent when they considered race, even though being a socialist has nothing to do with race, the respondents irrationally tied the two together.

The research suggests that the president’s unpopularity fuels American’s readiness to accept untrue rumors. People felt Obama is not on their side, a feeling stimulated by Republican and right wing authoritarian Christian talk show hosts in the media, and so they question his democratic stance and his religion. Kosloff said:

Unfortunately, in America, many people dislike Moslems, so they’ll label Obama as Moslem when they feel different from him.

It is the adult version of “Fatso”, “Frogface” and “Foureyes”—or more pertinently, “Nigger”—calling people names. Sadly, name calling is much more serious among political candidates who do not measure up to the authoritarian values of the Protestant moral majority. The Republicans’ childish but venomous Christian propaganda machine can make it highly uncomfortable for anyone it chooses to denigrate. They prefer their authoritarianism, which is not dissimilar to that of Hitler and the Nazis, to the tolerance the US constitution tried to enshrine. The trouble is that these right wing, so called, Christians know neither anything about Christ’s actual teaching, nor anything much about the formation of the US constitution. So, it does all boil down to ignorance in the end—wilful ignorance in the US!

Like the unwashed masses living twenty to a cellar room in nineteenth century Britain, the ignorant Christian masses of modern America consider themselves to be blessed with God’s imperial majesty—that is that their sorry personal condition is alleviated by the imperial conquests of their superior nation. It is all temporary. Once the Moslems conquered half the known world!

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