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Secret Muslim, Would-Be Prince

From a report on the TV news show 60 Minutes, here is more evidence that the “secret Muslim” rumors are hurting Barack Obama among some sections of the voting public, by tapping into fear of “the Other” among less educated Americans. For background, see my earlier post on the subject, “My Middle Name Is Hussein.”

To his credit, when Obama is asked about the rumors and denies them, he doesn’t just say they are insulting to him as a Christian. He also points out that they are insulting to Muslims because of the implication that being Muslim is something to be afraid of. This is the first time I’ve seen him put it this way, and I’m glad he did.

Hillary Clinton is also asked about the rumors and says there is no basis for them, but some people say her rejection isn’t strong enough. She seems to leave open the door to the possiblity that Obama only appears to be Christian, and that new evidence will come up later to prove he is really a Muslim. This may be due to the fact that the interviewer asks her to deny the rumors three times, and there are only so many creative ways to do that.

    In Chillicothe, people told 60 Minutes that…many blue collar workers here won’t vote for a woman and others would never vote for a black. And Senator Obama has another problem: a malicious campaign against him that surfaced in a number of our interviews.
    Schoenholtz told Kroft he is leaning towards Obama, but that there were a couple of issues he was “not too clear” on.
    Asked what they were, Schoenholtz said, “Well, I’m hearin’ he doesn’t even know the National Anthem, you know. He wouldn’t use the Holy Bible. He’s got his own beliefs, got the Muslim beliefs. Couple issues that bothers me at heart.”
    “You know that’s not true,” Kroft remarked.
    “No. I’m just…this is what I’ve been told,” he replied.
    “One of the things that we found in southern Ohio—not widespread, but something that popped up on our radar screen all the time—people talking about it, this idea that you’re a Muslim,” Kroft told Senator Obama.
    “Right. Did you correct them, Steve?” Obama asked.
    “I did correct them,” Kroft replied.
    “There you go,” Obama said.
    Asked where this is coming from, Obama told Kroft, “You know, this has been a systematic e-mail smear campaign that’s been goin’ on since actually very early in this campaign. It clearly is a deliberate effort by some group or somebody to generate this rumor. I have never been a Muslim, am not a Muslim. These e-mails are obviously not just offensive to me, somebody who’s a devout Christian who’s been goin’ to the same church for the last 20 years, but it’s also offensive to Muslims. Because it plays into, obviously, a certain fear-mongering there.”
    It happened again last week, when a photo of Obama in ceremonial African tribal dress during a visit to Kenya [actually, Somalia] was featured prominently on the Internet and attributed to people in the Clinton campaign.
    Senator Clinton disavowed any knowledge of it.
    “You don’t believe that Senator Obama’s a Muslim?” Kroft asked Senator Clinton.
    “Of course not. I mean, that, you know, there is no basis for that. I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn’t any reason to doubt that,” she replied.
    “You said you’d take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s…” Kroft said.
    “No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”
    “It’s just scurrilous…?” Kroft inquired.
    “Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors, that I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time,” she said.

If Obama wins the big states of Texas and Ohio on Tuesday, or possibly even one of them, most people will assume he is going to be the Democratic nominee. The increasingly serious possibility that he will knock Clinton out of the race may be why the “secret Muslim” rumors have been gathering strength in recent days. Those who support Bush era fear-based politics are beginning to take aim at Obama instead of Clinton, because they see him as their most likely opponent.

If Obama is the nominee, these smears—that he is a Muslim because his father was a Muslim, or because he went to school in Indonesia—will be with us all the way to the November elections. If he succeeds in winning, it will be because the majority of Americans have rejected this kind of attack. It could be a cleansing moment for the American psyche. I’m both optimistic and fearful, but I hope American decency will prevail.

— • —

Meanwhile in Morocco, the sentencing of 27-year-old engineer Fouad Mourtada to three years in prison for creating a fake Facebook profile of Prince Rachid continues to ripple through the public consciousness. Demonstrations in support of Fouad took place on Saturday in Paris and other cities, and Larbi has a video of the Paris event. He is also collecting photos in which Fouad’s supporters call for his freedom. For background on the case, see my earlier articles “The Cruelty Principle” and “Moroccan Injustice System.”

By way of blogger-entrepreneur Laurent Bervas, I came across this editorial in the Moroccan journal Le Reporteur, which I’ve decided to translate because it does a good job of explaining how young people in Morocco are affected by Fouad’s tragedy.

    What have the judges done? They’ve put behind bars, for three years, a young man of 27 who, coming from a modest family, had managed to get out of his isolated hometown (Goulmima, near Errachadia, in the south of Morocco), stick to his studies until he became an engineer, and take charge of his life in a sane and exemplary manner! A young man without a past record, without malicious intent, not the slightest threat to society, whose sole fault was to borrow, on Facebook, the identity of the Prince he admired, the Prince of his country. A questionable game, perhaps, but a game—we can’t say it enough—which all young people his age play, each one identifying with the celebrity of his choice, in this Internet world which permits such dreams. …
    What are people saying? More or less this. Not long ago, a pedophile who raped a little girl, less than five years old, was condemned to just two years in prison. Big, well-publicized trials have seen the accused get off with a few weeks’ suspended sentence. There are major white-collar thieves who have lined their pockets with public funds, and the justice system continues to spare them. Fouad Mourtada, for his part, gets three years! Torn between dejection and rage, people are saying all this, and more. Many young people, in these times when there is a lot of concern about terrorism, even think the justice system of their country is more to be feared than terrorism, because it seems easier to them to fight terrorism than to fight what they call “the injustices of the justice system.”
    The question that our most serious-minded citizens are asking now is, “What message did our justice system want to send?” Did they want to discipline young people, as one of the judges told our reporter at the trial? If so, they blew it completely. Young people are nauseated, in revolt, “risen as one.” Their blogs tell us all we need to know. Or go to Facebook. Were they trying to defend the Prince? Not only did they blow that as well, but—and this is worse—nothing has ever done more harm to his reputation than this judicial decision.
    So here is the result: a young man lost, a country wandering in the fog, institutions soiled and justice itself discredited, if you read what is being written about us today in international media of all types. As the friends of Fouad Mourtada would say, “What do we do now?”

As it happens, we were discussing that question here in the comments. Ahmed for example said, “It’s not just the Moroccan justice system that needs reform, but the whole Moroccan political mentality is in dire need of reeducation.” Hisham added, “Progressive intellectuals have the duty to teach, set examples, elaborate a project for the future and take risks. … ‘The base’ has already identified the illness, [they are] ready for change but still waiting for an inspiring and catalyzing leadership.”

Comments

Comment from yunir
Time: March 4, 2008, 03:03

I have always found it disturbing that Obama didn’t point out that even if he was a Muslim, it should not be an issue.

And so, as with you, I’m glad he finally did say that the ‘secret Muslim’ label is offensive to Muslims. (I Would not have realised it if you hadn’t mentioned it…. so thx!)

Comment from Mohamed (EKM)
Time: March 4, 2008, 03:09

Je comprends pas l’acharnement de certains marocains contre leur pays ! ceux qui pensent qu’il est mieux de subir le terrorisme que l’injustice, ils n’ont qu’aller en Bagdad, Gaza ou Alger pour vérifier la véracité de leur propos !

Comment from eatbees
Time: March 4, 2008, 10:42

@yunir — Glad to be of service ;) and it’s true that this “angle” of Obama’s remarks didn’t get much attention. I didn’t see it myself until I checked the transcript on the 60 Minutes website. I read somewhere yesterday that right-wing fanatics are going to try to paint Obama as a “disquieting stranger.” Ultimately the only way to fight that is to preach tolerance. If he is the nominee, it will be an interesting few months!

Comment from eatbees
Time: March 4, 2008, 10:56

@Mohamed (EKM) — I’m not sure that distaste for the arbitrary use of authority in one’s country is the same thing as beating up on one’s country. As an American I can say that we have the same problem here. Many Americans who love their country hate what Bush has done to it, with his illegal spying, use of torture and secret prisons. It’s just not right. And I think the Moroccans who defend Fouad and protest “justice under orders” love Morocco equally well. They just want to see leaders who reflect what is best about Morocco, not what is worst.

The question of terrorism is a tricky one, because clearly it is a real threat and won’t go away, whether in Morocco or the U.S., Britain or Spain, Tunisia or Pakistan… but we should acknowledge as well that the way the state responds to that threat is an important indicator of that state’s values. I would suggest that any state should use investigative procedures that strive to protect the right to privacy of its citizens who are not suspected of terrorism, and judicial procedures that demand proof of guilt for those who are. I don’t accept the argument that for the state to obey its own laws would expose the public to a greater risk of terrorism. But even if it were so, my personal choice would be to accept that risk rather than empower a state to act like Big Brother. My favorite words on this matter are still those of Benjamin Franklin:

“Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

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