Whittaker Chambers and Osama bin Laden

While reading about some of Barack Obama’s more radical detractors, I visited sites that were at best stupefying and at worst racist. One theme that really struck me was this continuing perception that he is a Muslim, or at least a strong Muslim sympathizer, a perception that has become so insidious it has led someone to create a great response to the ridiculous question: http://isbarackobamaamuslim.com/.

Although I’m fascinated in a gawking-at-a-car-crash kind of way by these attacks, my mind quickly wandered into the realm of American history and arrived at the not-so-novel realization that the politicized use of “Islam” has completely supplanted the use of “Communism” as a means of fear-mongering and smear tactics. That parallels are striking. The idea of East vs. West, a global struggle (a la Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations), with each being a nebulous, trans-national ideology that looms over Western ideals of individualism and democracy.

None of this is particularly original, and has been echoed by others. However, the parallel truly symbolizes a yawning generational gap in the United States. Quite simply, I belong to a generation for whom communism is an utterly abstract, impotent, and, frankly, quaint relic of the past. Instead, many people sadly view the “Muslim world” (as it is problematically termed) with the same fear, unease, and condemnation with which many people viewed the “Communist world” for much of the twentieth century. I had thought about the rapid plummet of Communism as a viable ideology before, specifically when one of my classes read Sam Tanenhaus’s biography of Whittaker Chambers and the professor was absolutely shocked to find that not a single person in this upper-level American history course knew who Chambers was before the class. At one point in the near past, your opinion of Whittaker Chambers stood for perhaps the singular litmus test of your political sympathies. Now, anyone under the age of 25 would be hard-pressed to know anything about him, much less his historical significance. Older generations find this difficult to believe.

Whittaker Chambers, along with crawling under your school desk for an air raid drill, belongs to an era that has become largely irrelevant to twenty-first century American culture. If someone were to call me a commie pinko, I would likely receive it with the same mild amusement and perplexity as if someone called me a square - while I may know on an academic level what the insult means, it packs absolutely no punch. However, Obama’s extremist critics have demonstrated an effort to lay the seeds of a McCarthy-esque political witch hunt in which Islam has taken the place of Communism. However, my youthful optimism keeps telling me that these smear attacks will never reach the critical mass necessary to create a sizable impact on the 2008 elections. And for the most part, I believe it.