On December 18, 2006, Debbie Schlussel, a right-wing pundit and blogger, posted a column on her website entitled “Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always a Muslim.” Media Matters explains:
Debbie Schlussel argued that because Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-IL) middle name is Hussein, his late, estranged father was of Muslim descent, and he has shown interest in his father’s Kenyan heritage, Obama’s “loyalties” must be called into question as he emerges as a possible Democratic presidential candidate. In the column, Schlussel asked: “So, even if he identifies strongly as a Christian … is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father’s heritage, a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?” She ended her column by asking if Obama becoming vice president instead would be acceptable. Answering her own question, she wrote: “NO WAY, JOSE … Or, is that, HUSSEIN?”
Schlussel’s claims have been repeated and circulated in an e-mail campaign, which has already reached several people here in Central Louisiana. Mr. Obama, the only African-American currently serving in the United States Senate, identifies himself as a member of the United Church of Christ.
Schlussel, however, believes that Obama is hiding his true religious identity, and she points to specific details in Obama’s life– his middle name, his Kenyan grandfather’s religious beliefs, his step-father’s religious beliefs, and a brief two-year stint at a Muslim elementary school. But in doing so, Schlussel conveniently leaves out some important details: Obama never knew his father or his grandfather. He first visited Kenya as a young adult, four years after his father had passed away. Both his late, estranged father and his step-father were non-practicing Muslims. From the Chicago Sun-Times:
Obama describes his father, after whom he is named, as “agnostic.” His paternal grandfather was a Muslim. His mother, he says, was a Christian.
When he was 6 years old, after his parents divorced, Obama moved with his mother and her new husband — a non-practicing Muslim — to Indonesia, where he lived until he was 10 and attended a Roman Catholic school.
“I went to a Catholic school in a Muslim country, so I was studying the Bible and catechisms by day, and, at night, you’d hear the [Muslim] prayer call,” Obama recalls. “My mother was a deeply spiritual person and would spend a lot of time talking about values and give me books about the world’s religions and talk to me about them.
Schlussel’s “Muslim” school claims have been embellished by those circulating an e-mail detailing Obama’s secret Muslim life. They hysterically claim that Obama attended a radical school whose core beliefs created “the terrorists.” It’s just simply not true.
What is most offensive about those who seek to question Mr. Obama’s faith is that they do so by imploying fear-mongering and race-baiting tactics, insinuations based on a loosely constructed and incomplete narrative. They repeatedly call attention to his name, alleging that Muslims will believe that someone with a Muslim-sounding name is automatically a Muslim (and I suppose the back-handed implication is that this will somehow be perceived as a victory for the terrorists). It’s just moronic. Moreoever, they claim to have a special insight into Mr. Obama’s true religious beliefs, arguing that he is only a Christian because it’s “politically expedient.”
Mr. Obama does represent a sea-change in politics. He was born in the 1960s. He’s a bi-racial, Harvard-educated lawyer who can captivate an audience and is unafraid to speak openly about his past. He’s also unafraid to speak openly against the Republican party and the Bush doctrine.
In the fall of 2002, Obama said, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars…You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.”
Hopefully, this smear campaign will be recognized for what it is: a page out of Karl Rove’s textbook. Direct mail. Rumor and insinuation based on half-truths. Anyone remember what Rove did to John McCain in South Carolina? Same play, different game.