Many years ago my father told me a poignant story about when he first came to America from Istanbul, Turkey.
Having grown up a Christian, Greek man in Istanbul he had experienced his share of prejudice. But it was all about religion.
In the late 1950s, in his 20s, my father came to New York on a boat from Istanbul. He was a waiter on the cruise liner along with many Turkish Christians and Muslims. They were all friends and found a common bond in their workingman ethos. So my father was shocked when the boat docked in Brooklyn, and one of the ship's crew told the dark-skinned men in the group they would have to stay on the boat that night.
My dad asked why the men, including one of his close buddies, had to stay behind, and the crewmember told him that they could be in danger if they ventured out without escorts into the American night because they were black men, albeit foreign black men.
My father realized in that moment, that not only was there bigotry in the land of the free, but it wasn't the garden variety he was accustomed to.
All his life it was about religious hatred....Muslims against Christians, Christians against Muslims.
But here, he realized, bias was mainly about skin color.
Until September 11th that is.
Race has been the linchpin in American bigotry, but after two planes flew into the World Trade Center towers, everything seemed to shift a bit.
Proof of the transformation has been evident during this presidential contest.
Rumors that Obama may be a Muslim are reported in the press as a "smear campaign."
Here's an interchange from 60 Minutes yesterday where Steve Kroft interviews Hillary Clinton:
KROFT: You don't believe that Senator Obama's a Muslim?
CLINTON: Of course not. I mean that's, you know, that, there is no basis for that. You know, I take him on the basis of what he says, and, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that.
KROFT: You said you take Sen. Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim...
CLINTON: Right, right..
KROFT: ...you don't believe that he's a Muslim.
CLINTON: No! No! Why would I? There's nothing to base that on. As far as I know.
The tone in the press and on blogs makes it sound like Obama possibly being a Muslim would be on par with screwing around behind his wife's back, or being a pedophile.
So what if Barack Hussein Obama were indeed a Muslim? (I know he's not but I'm making a point here.)
Would you refuse to vote for him?
Now I'm not saying our nation has been tolerant of all religions. John F. Kennedy nearly didn't get elected because he was Catholic. And there haven't been any Jewish presidents yet, or Buddhists, or Hindus.
Religious discriminations has always been a subtext in a nation supposedly founded on religious tolerance. But 9/11 brought Muslims front and center.
Everyone is talking about how race shouldn't be an issue in this presidential campaign, but all the while disregarding how much of an issue religion has become, and there are no apologies for it.
Suddenly, we're not allowing the Muslims off the boat at night without an escort.