obama3.jpgLast week saw Barack Obama’s enemies begin to exploit the previously latent “Muslim factor” against him, with Hillary Clinton aides reportedly feeding the Drudge Report a photo of Obama in Somali garb and a conservative radio host repeatedly invoking Obama’s middle name—Hussein—in an apparent attempt to paint him as a Muslim at a John McCain rally. A press release issued by the Tennessee Republican party incorporated both the photo and Obama’s middle name, though both components were removed from the release by week’s end.
The efforts to portray Obama, a longtime active member of the United Church of Christ, as a Muslim, have been decried by pols and pundits of all stripes, as well they should. At the same time, there’s a question about whether Obama deserves some of the blame for aiding the smear campaign against him, and God-o-Meter is surprised it hasn’t been asked yet elsewhere. In keeping mum about his very real experiences with Islam as a child, has Obama made himself vulnerable to charges that he’s been hiding his connections to the religion?
If voters suspect that’s the case, they’ll be much more susceptible to the false rumors about Obama being Muslim today.
A “factcheck” memo about the false Muslim rumors on Obama’s official campaign web site rejects any suggestion that there’s ever been a tie between Obama and Islam. Citing a March 2007 Los Angeles Times story, the memo quotes Obama chief spokesman Robert Gibbs: “To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago.”
But the Obama campaign factcheck leaves out the ensuing paragraphs from the L.A. Times piece, which sketch out Obama’s early experiences with Islam:

His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama’s grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both of the schools he attended.
That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades, Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.
The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. “We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played,” said Zulfin Adi, who describes himself as among Obama’s closest childhood friends.

The campaign has also kept a lid on Obama’s father’s polygamy, a fact reported by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof just last month.
Can the campaign continue to stay quiet about these experiences in Obama’s life when its enemies are beginning to latch onto them? Should Obama have been more forthright about his childhood experiences with Islam–by way of his Kenyan father and Indonesian stepfather–earlier on in his campaign, or would that have stopped him out of the gates? There’s never a good time to talk about the so-called “Muslim factor,” God-o-Meter knows, but the question is whether Obama is actually fanning the false rumor campaign by appearing to conceal his very real exposure to Islam as a youth.
Editor’s Note: God-o-Meter changed the original title for this post–Is Obama Blameless in False Rumors?–because it implied Obama deserved blame for the rumors themselves, rather than for making himself more vulnerable to them.


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