Is Barack Obama a Muslim?
He’s a Christian. Nevertheless, that question has been a background whisper to the right-wing narrative about Barack Obama even before he became a candidate for president — Obama made his announcement almost a month after the false InsightMag.com report that he attended an Indonesian madrassa as a child.
That whisper became more of a shout in the past week after some thoroughly depressing polling was released showing that disproportionately large percentages of the American public either believe (contrary to established fact) that the president is a Muslim, or are unsure (in spite of intense media scrutiny) of which faith he adheres. This can’t be seen as anything but a huge victory for the right, which has, for the better part of three years, made sure to take every opportunity to use “Obama” and “Islam” in the same sentence. Sometimes it’s more explicit, like when Franklin Graham proclaims that Obama was “born a Muslim.” Other times it’s slightly less explicit, like when the Washington Times‘ Jeffrey Kuhner — who was editor of InsightMag.com when it made the false Obama-madrassa claim — callsObama a “cultural Muslim” and the Times Photoshops a star and crescent onto his face.
Either way, the end goal is the same — to portray Obama as different, dangerous, “other.”
Given that they’ve worked so hard at fostering this image, one would think that the release of polling showing that more and more Americans buy into their bogus storyline would be cause for celebration. That, however, is not the case, as the right is eager to disown responsibility for this bigoted line of attack and place it squarely on Obama’s shoulders.
Stephen Hayes suspects that the Muslim rumor persists because of Obama’s “outreach to what he calls the Muslim world.” Rush Limbaugh claims Obama hasn’t been “obvious” about his Christianity, while Glenn Beck faults the president for practicing “a Christianity that most Americans just don’t recognize.” Byron York wrote a blame-the-victim masterpiece for the Washington Examiner in which he traced responsibility for the Muslim falsehood all the way to Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father.
The logic is amusing — the default setting for most people is to think Obama is a scary Muslim, and it’s his responsibility to convince them otherwise. In practice, the argument is devious. These right-wingers give the appearance that they’re rebutting the false Muslim rumor, but at the same time forward it by attacking Obama for doing things that make him seem like a Muslim. They absolve themselves of responsibility while reaping the benefits of smearing their ideological adversary.
But it’s not just the president who’s getting a bad shake. Implicit in this smear is that being a Muslim is an undesirable trait, something to be feared and loathed. And that has the potential to make difficult the lives of American Muslims.
One need not look any further than the ongoing, increasingly ludicrous row over the Park51 Islamic center — currently suffering under the ignominious “Ground Zero mosque” misnomer. After weeks of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media blithely lumping Muslims together with terrorists, Nazis, and enemies of the state, the protests against Park51 have taken on a virulently xenophobic character, with protesters holding signs with slogans like: “Islam = Hate”; “Islam = terrorist”; “Islam = Killing.”
But if we’re going by the right wing’s rules, then that’s the fault of Muslims for not sufficiently proving they’re not all hateful, murdering terrorists.
Simon Maloy is a Research Fellow at Media Matters for America.