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by Khody Akhavi

What's Waiting for Obama

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Since launching his bid for the U.S. presidency in 2007, Senator Barack Obama has weathered attacks on his background, race, name and religion.

His recent emergence as the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's nomination has once again placed him in the crosshairs of prominent and anonymous right-wing foes who appear eager to paint the Illinois senator as a "closet Muslim" -- a veritable Manchurian candidate who cannot be trusted.

The attacks took a sensational turn during this week after a 2006 photo of the senator dressed in the traditional headdress and wrap of Somali elders surfaced on the widely read blog the Drudge Report, along with the allegation that it was supplied by a Hillary Clinton supporter.

The innocuous photo, taken during the Senator's visit to the remote northeastern town of Wajir in Kenya, drew the ire of Obama aides, who accused the Clinton camp of "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering" after it was published.

Clinton was initially viewed as the "inevitable" nominee for the Democratic ticket, but her campaign has sputtered in recent weeks as Obama's string of 11 consecutive victories in primary state competitions has added to his momentum.

In the final televised debate before Mar. 4, a primary day that most analysts believe will decisively determine which Democrat will face off against Republican Senator John McCain in the November general election, Clinton was asked about the photo and its origins.

"I certainly know nothing about it and have made clear that that's not the kind of behavior that I condone or expect from the people working in my campaign. But we have no evidence where it came from," she said.

During the debate, Obama was also asked pointedly whether he "rejected the support" of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has drawn heavy criticism for calling Judaism a "gutter religion," and who on Sunday said the Illinois senator was the "hope of the entire world."

"I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy," said Obama. "You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements. And I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is on those comments."

But it appears members of the Republican Party and their allies have willingly employed brazen tactics, adding to the innuendo about the candidate's religious affiliations and casting Obama as a threat to Israel.

In response to Farrakhan's endorsement, the Tennessee Republican Party released an online statement Monday to supporters entitled "Anti-Semites for Obama," saying that U.S. citizens should be "concerned about the future of Israel" if Obama is elected president. The memo was accompanied by the controversial photo.

About 48 percent of respondents to a February 2007 Pew Research Center poll said they would be "less likely" to support a candidate who is Muslim; 48 percent said it would make no difference. The same poll found that 50 percent of respondents would be less likely to support a candidate 70 or older; McCain is 71.

Obama, whose late father was from western Kenya, has fought a campaign of online whispers and rumor by fringe elements who incorrectly say he is a Muslim, even comparing his last name to that of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The anonymous email rumors -- which have been circulating around the Internet for more than a year -- claim, among other things, that if Obama is elected president, he will take the oath of office using a Koran, instead of a Bible.

Another email suggests that Obama had attended a fundamentalist Muslim religious school, known as a madrassa, as a child living in Indonesia, and that his childhood education was steeped in radical Islam.

"Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim while admitting that he was once a Muslim, mitigating that damaging information by saying that, for two years, he also attended a Catholic school," it read.

In January, prominent Jewish-American leaders, including Anti-Defamation League President Abe Foxman, signed an open letter decrying the "hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterise" Obama's religious beliefs.

Fox News, along with other conservative and right-wing media outlets, have also taken to advancing the dubious sound-bites, drawing false connections between Obama's middle name, which is Hussein, and a purported Muslim identity.

During a McCain rally appearance this week, right-wing radio host Bill Cunningham advanced the innuendo, repeatedly referring to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama," emphasising his middle name. McCain rejected the comments, saying he would not tolerate attacks on either Obama or Clinton.

While discussing Cunningham's references, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson said: "The silent thing that nobody is really talking about here is the reason that he was saying the middle name so many times... is because the connotation is that Barack Obama is a Muslim potentially. His father was a Muslim."

Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ in Chicago.

The latest attacks on the Illinois senator appear to portend a fierce and potentially divisive rhetorical battle over religion and race in the U.S. as right-wing pundits continue to raise dubious claims and insinuations regarding Obama's religion, race, and patriotism.

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Albion Monitor   February 28, 2008   (

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