In responding to the viral charges that he’s some kind of Muslim, Barack Obama has caught some flak for, in his insistence that he is not and never has been, seeming to acknowledge that there might be something wrong with that. On Larry King last night, he took the occasion of commenting on the notorious New Yorker fist-bump cover (about which he was a good deal more relaxed than a lot of other people) to address the issue:
One last point I want to — I do want to make about these e-mails, though. And I think this has an impact on this “New Yorker” cover.
You know, this is actually an insult against Muslim-Americans, something that we don’t spend a lot of time talking about. And sometimes I’ve been derelict in pointing that out.
You know, there are wonderful Muslim-Americans all across the country who are doing wonderful things. And for this to be used as sort of an insult, or to raise suspicions about me, I think is unfortunate. And it’s not what America’s all about.
It was canny to construe the insult as an insult to American Muslims, as opposed to Muslims generally. Americans tend to distinguish between religious minorities in this country and their co-religionists abroad, more readily accepting the former as yet another group exercising their constitutional rights of conscience in our society. “Don’t insult our Muslim fellow citizens” has some traction that “Don’t insult Muslims” doesn’t. (For a discussion of how this distinction plays out in media coverage, see chapter nine of my book, Unsecular Media.)