I don’t think Barack Obama is a Muslim. There, I said it. I do however think he is deeply anti-Christian, anti-American and indeed anti-Western. These are traits, I believe, that emanate from his socialist beliefs, rather than any Islamic ones.
That’s not to say that the red-green alliance isn’t alive and kicking. But it is the reason that Donald Trump had no reason to correct a man in the audience about his own beliefs on the matter. In fact, engaging in a protracted debate would have probably led to even worse mainstream media headlines for Trump, as outlets like the BBC would have cried, “Trump Entertains Man Who Thinks Obama Is a Muslim!”
I’ve seen similar incidents a number of times. When I was working for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage I distinctly recall a similar incident we experienced while walking through the picturesque market town of Sandwich, in Kent, just before Britain’s general election in May.
Sandwich is a sleepy little place and long may it remain. We, of course, had brought the travelling media circus with us to the area, bemusing its population of 5,000, most of whose first names I probably know by now.
As we moved from the Guildhall in the town centre, up No Name Street (yep, seriously) and through into Market Street, we were met by maybe half a dozen residents along the way. Nigel duly shook their hands and engaged them in conversation as we passed through. The cameras rolled, the producers shuffled around looking for the best shots, and the journalists repeatedly, I hope inadvertently, smacked me in the face with dictaphones, as I had become accustomed to.
One man approached us, citing his concerns over radical Islam and immigration. The media decided that this was going to be their line for the day and Nigel obliged. “People do care. People are worried,” he argued, while the journalists scoffed about how many radical Islamists you might find at the market on a Thursday morning – as if no one from Sandwich had left the town for years and seen parts of London, just an hour away, which are riddled with Islamist sympathisers and immigrants that refuse to integrate. Classic establishment thinking.
The chap that Nigel was speaking to seemed entirely reasonable at first. He wasn’t waving him arms around like a nutter, and he wasn’t really saying anything that was particularly out of the ordinary. Just voicing his concerns. But the media knows how to wind people who aren’t used to a grilling up, and as the cameras flashed and the film rolled, it became clear that the man was becoming increasingly theatrical and agitated. This is the sort of point that I would give Nigel a tap on the shoulder and insist that we move along. But Nigel’s his own man, and he very rarely obliged me. Instead, they continued chatting.
And then it happened. I remember it clearly, because it was getting a bit loud as the media hurled their questions at the pair while they attempted a conversation. Nigel had turned to say something to another observer. The man, meanwhile, blurted out, “You only have to so much as sneeze and an Arab will try to blow you up.”
Gasp. I saw the eyes of journalists widen, their necks crane forward. And as they did once in a while, began to pace around the group trying to find their cameraman to make sure he “got it”.
The conversation drew to a natural close, Nigel bid the man a good day, and we moved along the road. But the journalists wouldn’t let it slip, and I was the only staffer around at the time, so they descended upon me.
“Why didn’t Nigel correct that man!?” they demanded.
“Correct him about what?” I enquired.
“He said something racist! That was a racist man!” I was told.
“What, the joke?” I asked.
“It was unacceptable, Nigel should have challenged him! Are you in favour of racism? Do you like racist voters?”
I just let them continue to ask questions, because they usually ended up tripping themselves up, after a while: “Do you think jokes like that are acceptable?”
“Ah, so it was a joke, now?” I replied. “Besides, I’m not even sure Nigel heard it. He was talking to someone else at that point, I think”.
The faux outrage lasted about 10 more minutes, and then they all got
distracted outraged by something else.
But imagine Nigel had “confronted” the man. Imagine he had said what they wanted him to say: “Well hold on a minute mate, that’s just not true. You won’t get blown up by an Arab if you sneeze, I assure you!”
How ridiculous would that have been? And then the headlines, “Nigel Assures Voters Arabs Won’t Blow Them Up If They Sneeze”. And the ensuing conversation? No, that wouldn’t have continued well either.
The best thing to do, when confronted with something silly like that – be it a joke as in this case, or an unfounded one in the case of Mr Trump and the Obama-Muslim man – is to shut the conversation down, and move on swiftly. Don’t give it succour, don’t give it oxygen. Be polite, move along.
And that’s what Donald Trump did. If you listen to his reply, he laughed, asking, “We need this question as the first question?” and the man let the Obama point go. He moved onto Islamist training camps and remembering the context of the question before, Trump shut it down: “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things,” he said, before moving on.
But still the media is not happy. According to them, Trump should have engaged the man in a protracted debate about Barack Obama’s religion, even though that wasn’t the question.
Well I don’t believe he should have. And I think he handled the situation as best he could. Anything else would have just led to a different negative headline, not no negative headlines. Because the media has the bit between its teeth, and it’ll chomp away so long as Trump insists of standing up for what he believes in.