Obama on Islamophobia in the State of the Union: How did Americans react?


Question: What was the most popular moment on Facebook during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address?

Answer: When President Obama talked about Islamophobia.

In speaking about America’s leadership in the world, the president said:

And that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I’m standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.

His statement generated much attention on Twitter, too, where Americans from diverse communities thanked the President for calling out Islamophobia.

Fellow political leaders endorsed his remarks.

But some of those vying for the GOP nomination had different thoughts.

Todd Green, a professor at Luther college and author of the book, The Fear of Islam, praised Obama’s remarks, but wished he’d used the word Islamophobia to describe the prejudice and discrimination Muslims face.

Some were concerned that House Speaker Paul Ryan and other politicians didn’t clap after Obama started talking specifically about Muslims.

In the day following Obama’s address, an article from the conservative website Breitbart calling the president’s comments “absurd” went viral on social media. Ignoring the evidence of rising anti-Muslim discrimination in the U.S., it cast Muslims as a unique threat to America.

This moment was a mere 200 words couched in an hour-long speech. But the various reactions it sparked show the degree to which Muslims and Islam factor into charged election-season climates, and are politicized even amidst calls to avoid prejudice and treat them with dignity and respect.

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