Given the furore unfolding every day in the US race for Presidential nominations, there might be less reason to believe that our culture minister is the only one who plays fast and loose with his words. Promoting bigotry seems to have become the latest fad in politics worldwide with one of the candidates even claiming in response to criticism of his comment that a Muslim American should not be president, that he’s a victim of political correctness as Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson did.
As Indians we can see a rich irony in all this because we were emancipated enough to be able to boast that at a time when we had a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) as Prime Minister, a
Muslim (Dr APJ Abdul Kalam) was the President and the ruling party boss was a Catholic (Sonia Gandhi). The topmost echelons reflected the plurality of India at its very best then.
The scene has not changed all that much now when we have a Muslim vice president on board. Constitutionally there is no bar in the US either. In saying that a Muslim should not be President, the candidate Ben Carson may have betrayed ignorance of the constitution or he may have done it in the hope it would fetch him brownie points in the Republican race to the nomination. Since he had previously compared people who voted for Barack Obama to Nazis, he is consistent enough to at least have a track record in all this.
The irony lies in the fact that they are debating anew this ‘birther’ theory and adding religion to it to light the fuse when Obama is nearly into the home stretch of his eight years in the White House. His rise to the presidency was one of the most remarkable stories in modern politics. He may not be the same suave orator now after years in office have taken their toll but his inaugural speech was something we read word to word.
When a friendly ‘Public Affairs’ official from the US Consulate predicted Obama’s win a couple of years before he got to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he did leave us a little bemused. Would the Conservative ‘White’ heart of America ever allow this is was the argument with which we challenged him at lunch that day. He was right about the changing demographics and the change of heart in his homeland.
It is a bit of a surprise then that the unlikely figure of Donald Trump should be the leading Republican contender for a nomination to probably take on Hillary Clinton, who with her links to the White House where she once lived as the First Lady, was far more of a form horse, if one may take the liberty of using the metaphor. To say Obama was the ‘dark horse’ might not have been politically correct about seven years ago, but today’s world is marked by a freer use of such words.
Having just written a book on Ronald Reagan, prolific author and political commentator Bill O’Reilly was on the Jimmy Kimmel show last week when the host floored him with a description that he was the Republican with the best credentials to take on the emerging Trump phenomenon. O’Reilly aired the view that sine the Presidential poll is a year away, there will be plenty of churning and that Trump might have disappeared by then. We will have to wait and see if another American pundit is right.
Criticism of the US as a “country built on white supremacy” has been aired. “It’s a place where white people live measurably safer, freer, more validated and prosperous lives, where the dehumanisation of black people was literally written into the constitution by slave-owners we are expected to worship, yet where even saying the words “white supremacy” is taboo.” This is what Lindy West, the American writer and film criticism editor, wrote in an article in a UK newspaper.
One would hate to be that judgmental of a country far away from us, particularly when we have so much bigotry of our own, particularly in our inherited ancient caste system that has left such residual problems seemingly set to defy time as it mutates and comes through in different forms nowadays with everyone clamouring to get on to the reservation bandwagon. The jury is still out on which are the worst forms of bigotry. The fact is the world has suffered enough through the ages from racial and religious bigotry and stereotyping.