I'm horrified by this. Not because I'm in any way anti-Muslim, but because I am in all ways anti-ignorance. I know, I know, it's happening everywhere, but I never thought it would happen in my family. I thought we were safe. I thought we took all the precautions:
We don't watch Fox News.
We don't listen to incendiary talk radio.
We pledge to both NPR and PBS.
We still read print newspapers.
We remain convinced that the earth is round.
But still, my 14-year-old daughter told me with firm conviction that President Obama is a Muslim. I never saw it coming.
The national news was murmuring in the background as I cooked dinner the other night. No one was actually watching, but since as a mother I can listen to up to seven conversations at once, some small part of my brain was monitoring the coverage of the Republican primary race. I didn't register all of the details, but I heard something about the re-emergence of certain Tea Party accusations concerning the religious beliefs of our president.
"You've gotta be kidding me," I said to no one in particular. "I can't believe they're dragging out this junk again."
"I know," Isabelle said, "who cares that Obama is a Muslim?"
But he's not a Muslim, I told her.
"Yes he is," she countered, "He's a proud Muslim, and there's nothing wrong with that."
I began to explain to her that some of Obama's nuttier opponents had started this rumor before the previous election in a last-ditch attempt to undermine his patriotism, but she just shook her head.
No, it's true, she insisted. "His middle name is, like, Al Qaeda or something," she told me. "But they're not all, like, bad guys."
How is it that through some kind of osmosis she's picked up our liberal give-peace-a chance code of conduct while at the same time she's unable to filter out the rantings of the lunatic fringe?
My kids were 7 and 4 when the twin towers were hit. We've been at war, or on the brink of war, with one Middle East country or another for as long as they can remember. Yellow ribbons and half-mast flags are as familiar and unremarkable to them as McDonald's golden arches and behemoth SUVs.
I'm a life-long Democratic, and my husband was born and raised in Norway, land of the cradle-to-grave social welfare system. Not wanting to brainwash our kids, we try to keep up a fair and balanced façade -- even though behind closed doors we can't help referring to Rush Limbaugh as a "right-wing whack-job" when we hear him frothing at the mouth. The fact that our 17-year-old son is also a current events junky means that dinner table debates about the Republican contenders, foreign affairs and domestic policy are not unusual in our house.
But let's face it: none of these are riveting topics of conversation to a typical 14 year-old girl. Pretty Little Liars, The Hunger Games, Justin Bieber's tweets and a big sale at Hollister? Yes. Contraceptive coverage, social security, bank bailouts, gay marriage, and troop drawdowns? Not so much.
I should have known that I'm not the only one who can monitor seven conversations at a time. Even though she didn't appear to be paying attention, my daughter was unconsciously picking up bits and pieces of information; opinions and accusations layered on a canvas to paint the picture of her world-view. "Not all Muslims are terrorists," she heard her parents say. "Barack Obama is a Muslim," she heard the voices on TV say. And in her nascent worldview both of these things are true, and one doesn't outweigh the other. This is the insidiousness of propaganda.
We can laugh at the duck-and-cover videos from the 1950s now, shake our heads
indulgently at the idea of Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union the Evil Empire, but the fact that nearly 3,000 innocent U.S. civilians died on a bright September day means that for many, the religion of Islam will be forever equated with the crimes of terrorism. And if so many adults can't distinguish a Muslim from a murderer, how can we expect our kids to?
Follow Suzanne Hegland on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@SuzanneHegland