Belief Beat

The New York Times reports that President Obama will not visit the Golden Temple, a Sikh holy site and major tourist attraction, during his trip to India next month — apparently because a photo of him wearing the required head covering would send an “Obama IS Muslim!” message to America’s Islamophobes, Tea Partiers, Republicans and undecided/confused voters.

That’s a shame, especially if you consider how Sikh men were persecuted in America after 9/11 because of the Average Joe’s inability to distinguish between their traditional appearance and Osama bin Ladin’s turban-beard combo. turban dad.jpgThis could have been a teaching moment, in a less contentious election season, with a less polarizing president. Instead, you’ll have to contend with this photo of my Greek Orthodox father getting wrapped up at my Hindu wedding. (Look, Ma, no Muslims OR Sikhs!)

On the other hand, The Times of India reports that previous U.S. presidents have also fretted about South Asian photo ops: Bill Clinton supposedly nixed riding an elephant because of its Republican Party symbolism.

Anyway, CNN reports that the White House has not yet finalized Obama’s itinerary for the three-day visit. It’ll be interesting to see if he visits any Hindu or Muslim sites, or perhaps squeezes in something Christian — maybe Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity? A visit to Mumbai’s Chabad House, where the resident rabbi and five other Jews were killed during the 2008 terror attacks on the city, is officially off the table, due to security concerns. He’ll probably steer clear of Tibetan Buddhism, so as not to further upset the Chinese… perhaps the Baha’i Lotus Temple in New Delhi, which might have the added bonus of thumbing his nose at Iran?IMG_1038.JPG

There are certainly plenty of religious sites — and political pitfalls — to choose from in India. But with just three days, and so much scrutiny and apparent eagerness to interpret and misinterpret everything he does, surely he’ll opt for the safest sanctuary: Gandhi’s Grave, in New Delhi. (Here’s a photo I took in 2005.)

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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