Tuesday, 11 November 2008

USA Elections, Masculinity, Religion: Obama

It’s funny how things work out some times. Who would have guessed that I would be in the streets of Brooklyn, New York shouting and screaming at the election victory of Barack Hussein Obama!

I was in the States for the Annual Academy of Religion (AAR) conference in Chicago last week which was cut in half after the split of religion scholars with the society of biblical literature. I don’t know the exact details of this split but I must say I quite liked telling people that there were 10,000 people at the conference I just attended, saying 5,000 doesn’t have the same ring to it! It was exciting times for me as I had managed to convince the Study of Islam section to host a panel on ‘Interrogating Muslim Masculinities: An Initial Conversation’. Masculinities being the focus of my doctoral thesis and having the honour of presenting the core theological focus of it in front of world-renowned Islam scholars made me wonder who was up for the interrogation! My paper was well received and I hope that this has started a much-needed enquiry into masculinity and Islam; men really need to be put to question! I also managed to be elected to the steering committee of the ‘Men’s Studies in Religion Group’ at this conference, another huge honour, hope I can live up to this challenge.

Chicago was abuzz with Obama, it being his home city, littered with posters and canvassers all around, the mood was good. I managed to squeeze in a river boat architecture tour of the city. The Sears Towers were pretty impressive, as was the numerous other buildings, which come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

I left Chicago for New York on the 4th November – Election Day! As I was sitting at what could be the largest airport in the world O’Hare International, everyone was glued to the large TV screens, which were showing live coverage of polling day. Later that evening I was at an election party in Brooklyn where the party was in full swing. I sat at the back of this party, feeling a bit like an impostor but then I began to think about why this was such an important election. Obama was ‘hope’ not just for Americans but the whole world. A world that seeks peace and security, a world which continues to battle against the reminence of racism and all sorts of prejudices and stereotypes we all harbour. Obama is not perfect and the folk at this party acknowledged this but they did seek ‘change’.

As the news channels announced his victory New Yorkers (and probably most of America) was going crazy. We were out on the streets where folk were tooting their car horns and making some noise. The smiles and the laughs were just perfect. As I sat and watched Obama make his acceptance speech I could not hold back the tears (most others were too, even the men, masculinity! Haha). The folk at the party said to me it was a moment where they had been redeemed in the eyes of the international community. They remained hopeful that the image of the USA which had been tarnished by past mistakes would be shown in better light. It was a heartfelt statement which made me realise that this was about reaching out at a time of international reconciliation. I am fully aware of anti-Americanism that exists but what we must accept is that where there a dozen people creating a mess, there will always be a dozen trying to clean it up. That is the essence of faith and this will always be present in the world, God willing.

It’s nice to be back in Scotland but I will continue to say... ‘God Bless America!’