There is a very soft, very sensitive spot on the underbelly of the Obama campaign. They fear its exposure perhaps more than any other vulnerability in the organization. It’s not some dark, buried scandal involving sex or money. It’s not a skeleton in either Barack or Michelle Obama’s family closet. In fact, it isn’t “real” in any logical sense at all.
It is a rumor — or, more prosaically, a smear. And touching on it brings out the teeth and claws of the Obama campaign beyond almost any other issue.
Barack Hussein Obama is not a Muslim. But the smear saying he is refuses to die and, if anything, is growing as the campaign becomes more intense. Aside from the obvious desire to beat down a false rumor, there are eminently practical political reasons why even mentioning the smear is avoided at all costs.
Recent polls show that between 45%-54% of Americans would never vote for a Muslim candidate. Already by some surveys, 15% of the electorate believes that despite vehement denials from the campaign, intensive investigations by mainstream media organizations, and all evidence to the contrary, Barack Obama is a Muslim.
This kind of irrational belief is fed by an army of online smear merchants and the more innocent but misinformed — or simply duped — group of largely conservative activists who see it as their duty to “expose” Obama as a Muslim to save the United States from. . . something. The cause is hazy. Either we should not vote for Obama because he is a Muslim “Manchurian Candidate” who, once ensconced in the Oval Office, will begin to turn the country into some kind of fundamentalist Muslim hell. Or, more earnestly, we must not elect Obama the Muslim because he will sell the US down the river in negotiations with Muslim countries.
There are several variations on those themes, and — if you wish to be educated — I suggest you peruse the comments of any article featuring Obama on this website. There you will come face to face with the lunatic fringe in all their ignominy. It is a sad commentary on American politics that so many give so much credence to such a tissue of lies and half truths.
But it is the sensitivity to the smear that has the entire Obama campaign on edge, as we witnessed on Monday at an Obama rally rally in Detroit. Two Muslim women wearing their traditional hijabs to cover their heads were denied the opportunity to sit behind the candidate and appear in the human tableau of diversity that all campaigns strive to present for the cameras.
The Detroit metropolitan area is home to the largest concentration of Muslim immigrants in the nation. But two volunteers working for the campaign declined to seat the Muslim women in two separate incidents at the venue. One volunteer specifically mentioned “the political climate” when she prevented the seating of one of the young women. The other volunteer made the excuse that no hats or head coverings were allowed behind the candidate, offering to seat the young woman if she would remove her hijab. (Photos from the rally clearly show several men with hats sitting behind the candidate.)
The young women were obviously hurt and disappointed:
Abdelfadeel, like Aref, felt “disappointed, angry and let down,” she later wrote.
She said she was “let down that the Obama campaign continuously perpetuates this attitude towards Muslims and Arabs — as if being merely associated [with] one is a sin.”
The two women’s friends who witnessed the incidents were disappointed, too. Aref’s friend Miller said he was “shocked” by the contrast between Obama’s message and their experience.
“He was the one candidate who you would expect to stand up for something like that — and behind the scenes, you have something completely contrary to what he was running on,” said Koussan, Aref’s other friend.
Once Ben Smith at Politico got a hold of this story and confronted the campaign with it, the candidate’s director of advance, Emmett S. Beliveau, called both women and personally apologized. And to be fair to the Obama camp, Smith reports that there are photos and videos from other venues where women in hijabs were seated behind the candidate. Clearly, it was not the policy of the campaign to discriminate in this manner.
But the fact that the incident occurred reveals a more fundamental truth: the smear against Obama threatens his election as president of the United States and everyone on both sides knows it.
How did a smear like this get started? The same way most viral rumors get started today — via untraceable emails. In a Politico story last fall, Jonathan Martin discovered that the emails began in December of 2006 — nearly two months before Obama declared his candidacy. The emails contain detailed biographical information that charges the candidate with worshiping as a Muslim when he was a boy living with his mother in Indonesia, and attending a Muslim religious school or madrassa.
The story was picked up by the online Insight Magazine and spread by some conservative bloggers. It was finally picked up by Fox News in January, at which point the Obama campaign rose up and strenuously denied everything.
Follow up investigations by CNN and other media outlets provided the truth of the matter. Obama attended Catholic school for two years in Indonesia and spent another two years at a highly competitive public school that had a diverse enrollment. No madrassa. No worshiping as a Muslim. Even the Indonesian government denied the claim that Obama was a Muslim.
A variation on the theme that Obama is a Muslim involves the notion that because his father was a Muslim Obama is also a Muslim according to Islamic law and Obama’s “conversion” to Christianity makes him an apostate — a death sentence in the Muslim world.
Obama’s Kenyan father abandoned Obama. As such, any religious imprimatur he may have had over Obama — which is already a stretch since the man was an atheist — is null and void. In such a situation, Obama’s mother’s religion is controlling. She was not Muslim. Even if someone makes the argument from patriarchy: that Obama’s paternal grandparents were his rightful guardians, that would fail since they also constructively abandoned him.
There is a corollary issue here: what about the fact that Obama’s second father, the Indonesian, was a “non-practicing Muslim.” Doesn’t his faith transfer over to Obama? The answer is no. Under Islamic law, step-fathers do not acquire ownership over the child. Their relationship to the child emanates from their relationship to the child’s mother. Again, Obama’s mother was not Muslim. If a practicing Muslim man marries a Christian woman with children from a previous marriage, her children wouldn’t automatically become Muslim. Here, the new father wasn’t even practicing.
Luttwack [sic] and the other fake experts promoting this new smear do not understand Islam. Religion is not hereditary as it is in Judaism. Islam is not a race. Just because a child has a Muslim father — which, again, Obama didn’t — doesn’t mean anything unless the child is being raised as a Muslim. At the time of birth, Muslims engage in a symbolic act — of saying the Call to Prayer in the child’s ear — that renders a child Muslim. If Obama’s father was agnostic/atheist, then he wouldn’t have done such a thing.
No call to prayer in the ear, not raised as a Muslim, born to an atheist father, and then abandoned to a Christian mother both by father and his family, equals not Muslim. Obama is right to say he had no religion until he became a Christian.
It pains me to waste space on this website attempting to tamp down these persistent and pernicious rumors that Obama is or was a Muslim. By relating the substance (more accurately, the total lack of substance) of these rumors, even the act of debunking them could be seen as promoting the smear.
But it raises the question of why it should even matter what Obama’s religion might be. Personally, I could care less if Obama was a tree-worshiping Druid. The point shouldn’t be what God he prays to but rather how he would govern the United States of America. Give me an honest, prudent atheist rather than a church going, amoral pol any day. The fact that many politicians go through the motions when it comes to their faith or attendance at church should disqualify a candidate’s religion as a major factor in determining one’s vote.
Alas, I know I’m in a minority on this issue and bow to the wisdom of the majority. But to deliberately ignore all evidence that Obama is a confirmed Christian in favor of the wildest, stupidest, most bizarre rumors regarding some kind of secret Muslim past of the candidate puts the believers of this smear and those who consciously advance it beyond the pale of civilized political discourse. For in the end, those who know better, who know full well that Obama is not a Muslim and yet continue to advance the notion that he is, are playing on the irrational fears of voters brought to the surface as a result of the attacks on 9/11.
In effect, they are using the dead bodies of 3,000 of our citizens to scare voters into voting against Obama.
The Obama camp has set up a Fight the Smears website in order to counter at least some of these viral emails that spread false and malicious rumors. I wish them well in their effort. There are a thousand reasons to vote against Barack Obama for president — all based on logic and reasonable differences on the issues. Basing your vote on a lie does a disservice to your own candidate as well as American democracy.
It’s about time this smear was laid to rest — permanently.
UPDATE: Obama’s half brother Misquoted
Jack Tapper at ABC has a transcript of the Jerusalem Post interview with Malik Obama, the candidate’s half brother, that is sweeping the loony right websites as “proof” that Obama as “raised a Muslim.”
Nowhere in the interview does Malik Obama hint, declare, intimate, or state that Barack Obama was raised a Muslim. The J-Post evidently did a sloppy job of paraphrasing what Malik Obama said.
Don’t believe me. Read the damn transcript:
It ended up on Fox News, with anchor Brut Hume saying on June 16 that: “Barack Obama is a practicing Christian, married in a Christian church, whose children were also baptized in that church. His campaign has emphasized his faith in part to dispel what the campaign calls an online smear campaign which contends among other things that Obama was raised a Muslim. There is even a statement on his official campaign website reading, quote, ‘Obama has never been a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.’ But Obama’s half brother is not so sure. Malik Obama tells The Jerusalem Post that, ‘if elected his brother will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background.'”
So is it true?
ABC News got a hold of the audio of Malik’s interview with Israel Army Radio, and Malik said nothing of the kind.
You can’t hear the questions — only Malik’s answers (listen HERE) — but whatever the interviewer asked about Obama’s father’s Muslim heritage, or the Muslim minority in Kenya, Malik said, “I don’t think that’s in any way going to be something to worry about. I myself am not speaking for him. But we are here, we love people in general. People love us. I myself love people who love me. You know, so, and I think it’s mutual. I can’t go in terms of Israel and Kenya and America, and so forth, you know, but based on what else I’ve heard him say and what I know of him as an individual, I don’t think Israel should worry too much, you know, about the connection. Because, I am a Muslim myself, and I don’t think that my being a Muslim has got anything to do with my brother being the President of the United States.”
It may be that the Israeli Army Radio interviewer asked about Obama having a “Muslim background.” But even if the interviewer did, Malik did not say that or come close to saying that.
It could be that the interviewer used the phrase, and Malik interpreted that in a way that squares with the Obama campaign’s story — that Obama’s father was a largely secular man born Muslim. We don’t know.
But nowhere in there does Malik expressly say anything about Obama having a Muslim background.