When Barack Obama became president, he promised to try and change the relationship dynamic between Islam and the west. His goal was to build bridges, lessen hostility, create trust, and generally lower the decibel level of conversation between the two cultures.
There can be little argument regarding the president's goals. The great struggle in which we are engaged against Islamism can only be won if we bring the hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims who only want to be left alone to practice their faith and live their lives by their own lights to our side. Muslim distrust of America – a distrust that predated by many years the administration of George Bush – is an impediment to making progress against those who think no more of beheading a Christian as they would stepping on an ant on an anthill.
So let us grant the president his good intentions. That doesn't excuse his shocking myopia, his crippling naivete, or his ludicrous, almost childish trust in the intentions of characters like Ahmadinejad, Abbas, or even his old friend, the Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi. At some level, the president either believes in the infallibility of his own judgment or in the power of his sincerity overcoming the fanaticism of our enemies.
It doesn't really matter because his approach has been proved wrong by events. The Iranians are still building the bomb while laughing in the president's face; Abbas is playing him for a fool, using the president to pressure the Israelis into concessions – only to renege and get the US to go back and pressure the Israelis some more; and if anything, all the president's efforts to show tolerance and forbearance toward Muslims hasn't budged the needle of hostility directed against the United States and our policies, although Obama himself is more popular personally among Muslims than his country.
Where the president's outreach policy has met with success is here at home. One in five Americans now believe he is a Muslim, compared to about 12% two years ago. This is a fantastic achievement to nearly double the number of Americans who aren't sure if the idiotic stories they hear about Obama being a closet Muslim are true or not. And to think Obama wasn't even trying. Just imagine what he could do if he really put his mind to it.
In truth, there are two forces at work that have conspired to advance this fantastical notion that Obama is a Muslim. The first has to do with the tight negative feedback loop that passes for the dissemination of information among many conservatives.
Call it 'epistemic closure' or an echo chamber, the result is that when you get all your information filtered through the same sources – sources that are constrained from questioning the efficacy of the dominant narrative being pushed due to fear of being cast out of the circle – an alternate reality is created where Obama's Muslim religion, his disloyalty to the United States, even the notion that he is a communist lovechild are accepted as fact or seen as being possible.
These ridiculous facts are fed indirectly by the demonization of the president via mainstream talk radio and the conservative press. "If he's capable of 'X', then it is certainly possible he can be 'y'" is what passes for reason and logic among the faithful. If Obama is deliberately trying to destroy the economy in order to enslave Americans and make them wholly dependent on the federal government for survival, as Rush Limbaugh has suggested, why is it impossible that he's a Koran loving Muslim to boot?
The second force at work is related to the first but lies in the perception – even among independents – that the president does not share their values. This is wholly the president's fault as his fine, moderate rhetoric has given way to radicalism in fomenting an agenda that, by his own admission, seeks to alter the American experiment. In short, there is a disconnect between Obama's personae as a "moderate" and his actions as a far left liberal.
Despite the belief by the president and his left wing allies that the American people are stupid louts who need to be led to water by the snout, the people's unease with the president has little to do with what religion he follows, or the color of his skin, and more to do with the idea that Obama's basic beliefs are at odds with a majority of his fellow citizen's.
He says he believes in self-reliance, but his actions belie that notion. He says he believes in the grand tradition of American liberty, and yet supports measures that reduce it. He says he believes that America is an exceptional country while letting the world know that we are no different than any other nation. Do we detect a pattern here? There is a titanic disconnect between the president's rhetoric and his actions. This not only breeds a basic mistrust that is showing up in opinion polls, but also feeds the unreasonable paranoia of those with less charitable attitudes toward Obama.
When nearly a third of conservatives buy into this "Obama is a Moooslim" narrative, my fellow righties should stop wondering why I refer to these specimens as "knuckledraggers" and "loons." About the same percentage also think that Obama has issues with being constitutionally eligible for office – another jaw dropping notion that proves the existence of a mindless echo chamber on the right that subsumes objective reality in favor of an over-the-rainbow worldview. Fear and loathing are powerful emotions, and as the Obama administration stumbles and bumbles its way forward, the liklihood is that at least among the rabid conservative base (as well as other wayward intellects who are incapable of thinking for themselves), horns and a tail will continue to grow on the president and the perception that he is alien in some way will continue to resonate.