Yesterday Jewish Week reporter Jim Besser wondered if Obama’s inaugural mention of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus” would start a “whole new whispering campaign” among those on the Right who would take the third-place mention of the Jews as a political slight.
Forget a whisper: The ZOA shouts it right out loud. From its press release:
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.”
ZOA: What is the reason President Obama chose this sequence when listing these four religions?
Throughout its history, the United States has always been known as a nation based on Judeo-Christian values and heritage.
Moreover, surveys show that there are some 5 – 7 million Jews living in the United States. Most surveys show that there are 1.8 – 2.8 million Muslims living in the United States.
In contrast, in President George W. Bush’s Inauguration Speech on January 20, 2001, he said the following, “Church and charity, synagogue and mosque, lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and laws.”
The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto makes a few guesses, none of which he says passes muster.
Here’s my guess: In typical parallel structures like these — “a and b, x and y” — the speaker is usually assuming a similarity or relationship between each compound clause. Try it: “young and old, rich and poor, black and white, liberal and conservative.”
Had the new president gone with “Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus,” as I presume the ZOA would have preferred, it would have made two groupings — the “usual” (Christians and Jews) and the “new and unusual” (Muslims and Hindus).These typical groupings would have “privileged” the Christians and Jews, and relegated the other religions to a second clause.
Obama is no doubt aware of America’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage (which is more Christian than Judeo, as Larry Yudelson has argued ). I’m guessing Obama, in the spirit of inclusiveness and change that he represents, tweaked the expected order of the religions in order to signal that the traditional conception of American religion is giving way to one that is more diverse, and that our religious weave is more complicated than a few “exotic” religions tacked onto the Judeo-Christian cross-stitch.
We don’t normally think of America in terms of “Christian and Muslim,” or think about the relationships between “Jew and Hindu.” Perhaps Obama is saying that it is time that we did, since the American mosaic grows more complicated each day.
(It’s a bit like that upside-down map of the world, which tries to shake up the usual “Eurocentric” view of the planet, or those dinner-party seating arrangements that separate husbands and wives.)
Is Obama putting Muslims’ interests ahead of the Jews’? I doubt it. Saying that he is just trying to break down old categories is consistent with his campaign message — indeed, his biography.
And if I were a Buddhist, I would be so pissed.