I hesitate to even bring this up, since it simply gives more space to a stupid issue, but since it's relevant to the kinds things I do, I figure I need to write about it.
The Washington Post, in an abandonment of anything resembling journalism, has run a front page story on the rumors (rumors, mind you!) that Barak Obama is a "secret Muslim." And no, I'm not kidding about this.
Let us count the ways that this whole matter is wrong.
In the first place, this is what counts as journalism at the Washington Post these days? A rumor propounded by whack job conspiracy theorists is a front page story? Woe unto us for the state of our news media these days!
But let's turn to the substance of the rumor itself. The basic claim is that Obama, whose father was Muslim, was raised as a Muslim and educated in a "madrasa" (in other words, a "school") in Indonesia. Furthermore, the story goes, he converted to Christianity in a cynical maneuver to gain power, and (apparently) intends to govern as a Muslim (whatever that means) should he be elected.
The whole conspirac theory is inane, as any amount of investigation at all would have uncovered. Actually, all you would need to do would be go to the Snopes Urban Legend Reference Pages in order to get the truth. And lo! The Post story even references the website!
First, Obama's father was an atheist, who had abandoned his Muslim upbringing by the time he married Obama's mother. Second, Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ. In fact, he's a member of one of the biggest UCC congregations in the country and has been very explicit and detailed about his faith commitments. Unlike, say, Bob Dole's switch from a moderate Methodist church to an evangelical Baptist church in 1996, which was clearly a cynical move, or John McCain's pandering to the religious right this time around, Obama clearly speaks the language and walks the walk of Christianity that he practices. He's been a member of Trinity UCC for years, and there's no evidence whatsoever that his faith is feigned.
It would be as if someone had claimed that Mitt Romney was a space alien from Mars, and the Post decided to put that on its front page.
But underlying the simple transparent falsehood of the claim is the underlying anti-Muslim bigotry. It's simply another dimension of the religious paranoia that has gripped so much of our nation since September 11th. The idea that to be a Muslim, or even affiliated with Islam, is to render one automatically suspect, allows both subtle and not-so-subtle religious persecution to pervade our cultural climate. One could not legitimately make similar claims about a Roman Catholic today (though even 40 years ago, that was still possible), and even Mitt Romney is getting a relatively easy treatment of his LDS background (though he's still experiencing considerable heat from some quarters). But people who would never breath a word of suspicion against a Catholic for being a Catholic, or a Mormon for being a Mormon, have absolutely no problem pillorying Muslims for no other reason than that they are Muslims.
The image of a global Islamic conspiracy against the West has become an implicit talking point on so much of the right these days that it is almost pointless to note that Islam is an extraordinarily diverse and disunified religion. There is no real global consensus among Muslims about any political or social strategy, and to suggest that somehow a "Muslim plant" in the White House is the culmination of a Manchurian Candidate type of plot ought to get someone the tinfoil hat treatment in our major media. But no. Instead, it's treated as front page news.
Were Obama a "secret Muslim" the real issue would be one of honesty, not one of religion. A Muslim, per se, is no less qualified to lead the country than a Methodist or a Mormon. Of course, that possibility is rejected on its face by the nutjob right in this country. But the point is moot in any event, since its been well established that this is a rumor without foundation.