"Barack Obama yesterday lashed out at political enemies who are spreading false rumors that he is a closet Muslim," the lead story in today's New York Post announced. The headlines read "'O' My God" and "Hounded Obama: 'I Pray to Jesus." Inside the paper, beneath the infamous picture of Obama in a turban, is a paragraph that includes the sentence, "Obama was never a Muslim and has been a member of the same Christian church for the last 20 years." Thus does the Post perpetuate the smearing of Obama, provide a veneer of balance for the story, and shrink from the only honorable answer to questions about Obama's religion: So what?
Despite the phrase "false rumors" in the lead, the Post story and photograph keep the smear campaign alive. If the allegation that Obama is a Muslim is false, it simply doesn't deserve the front-page play it gets in the Post. But the Post, I suspect, enjoys having it both ways: expressing outrage about the smear, but then publishing the photo and tormented quotes that keep the story alive. The Post, to paraphrase George Orwell, sells it soul in headlines and photos and buys it back in the news columns.
Ultimately, as Naomi Klein observes in The Nation,the problem is treating Islam as a religion that is somehow suspect for anyone who would run for the presidency. Obama's response that he is a Christian, while factually correct, doesn't do enough to slap down the basic premises of this religious slur.
The attacks on Obama, she observes, recall the attacks on a Polish presidential candidate Aleksander Kwasniewski on the grounds that he was really Jewish; Daniel Singer, the Nation correspondent, called the problem for what it was. Reports Klein: "What perturbed me," Singer wryly observed, "was that Kwasniewski's lawyers threatened to sue for slander rather than press for an indictment under the law condemning racist propaganda."
I'm inclined to judge Obama less harshly than the Post on this one, but the core issue remains the same: Islam should not be demonized as a religion unfit for a presidential candidate.