Saturday, March 01, 2008

Religious "Smear" Against Obama

One of the lines of "swiftboating" attack against Senator Barack Obama has been the showing of pictures of him in traditional clothing (actually, nomdadic Somali elder costume, including turban) while visiting Kenya, being sure to include and emphasize his middle name "Hussein", and falsely claiming that he's a Muslim.What makes each of these a smear is not the literal claim or picture itself--leaders often wear traditional costume when visiting another country--but why it is used and what it is deployed to explicitly suggest about Obama in the post 9-11 world of American politics, given his background and his race.

It is noteable, however, that the response of the candidate and the campaign on religion is simply to strongly deny that Obama's a Muslim, without rejecting the premise of the question: that religious affiliation could be a disqualification for the office of the Presidency. For example, according to Naomi Klein, Obama said to one Christian News reorter: “I’m not and never have been of the Muslim faith." He hasn't even given a Seinfeldesque: "I"m not a . . . not that there's anything wrong with it."

The question of Obama's response has not been treated much in the media, but Naomi
Klein takes it up in "Obama Being Called a Muslim is Not a Smear." Although Klein uses her argument as a lens to view our entire relationhip with the Muslim world, wrongly in some places, the central point about religion and our domestic politics is well worth considering.

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