Obama and the Islam factors

obama in OhioNews media from around the world parachuted into Ohio and Texas this week to cover the much anticipated primary elections that managed to further the Democratic Party's confusion over their choice for a 2008 presidential candidate. One story that continues to follow the Obama campaign is the false rumors that he is not a Christian. To write about this, reporters have latched on to Obama's statements that he is a Christian, and followed that with the false rumors that he is a Muslim. The other angle of this story is that many voters seem to be confused (or don't care) about the status of this charismatic politician's personal faith.

Here is The New York Post conducting an ill-advised information survey of about 12 people in Cleveland:

On a recent visit to Cleveland, The Post conducted an informal survey of about a dozen people and found that most didn't know Obama's faith - and many incorrectly assumed he was a Muslim.

Some Ohio Democrats even thought he had sworn the oath of office while holding the Koran - another false Internet rumor.

Trying to reassure voters yesterday, Obama told the audience in rural Nelsonville that they would feel right at home in his church in Chicago.

Surveys like that are just dumb. What percentage of the unscientific sample size of about 12 thought he swore his oath of office while holding the Koran? And if he did, would that affect whether they would vote for him? Also, would the members of Obama's audience in rural Nelsonville, Ohio, really feel comfortable in Obama's Chicago church? Should it matter? What if they're like the people who (like me) are rarely that comfortable when they visit a church for the first time?

Much of the media coverage of this issue has failed to ask the question so obvious to many American Muslims: why is Obama so insistent in trying to disprove a silly baseless Internet rumor? Is it really that politically damaging to Obama's campaign that some people are confused about his faith? Is a candidate's religion, particularly if it happened to be Islam, to be considered by default a handicap in this country?

Why does it seem to bother Obama and his campaign so much that some people think (and others believe) that he is a Muslim? Do people really take the Manchurian Candidate theory so seriously that they believe it is an issue?

On the other side of this issue is the fact that American Muslims seem to be gravitating towards Obama after largely supporting President Bush in 2000. Not that you would hear this if you followed solely the American news media. The BBC, with its sensitivity towards the growing Muslim population on its side of the pond, swooped into a Cleveland mosque, stating that it "would sit comfortably in the capitals of the Middle East."

Here is what they found:

A group of men from the mosque, led by the centre's president, Faud Hamed, spoke to BBC News after evening prayers.

There was exasperation at the on-going war, and a sense that social justice - a central tenet of Islam - is being ignored: "We all know that in the US Constitution it calls for peace and justice, but if we look around the world do we see any peace and justice?"

Uneasy about being publicly critical, most asked not to be identified.

"We are sometimes given the short end of the stick but in general we're treated fairly... I agree with the brothers [that] if you look at the cost of the war in Iraq so far, how much of these billions could have saved lives in the US alone," said one.

Whenever someone says that they have a right to something or that a certain concept is central to the Constitution, reporters should always ask for citations. They don't have to be specific, but allowing someone to state that a certain vague idea such as "peace and justice" is somehow central to the Constitution requires further explanation.

But vague surface explanations and quotes fitting the BBC's worldview is par for the course in this story. One gets the sense that this visit to Ohio mosques by the BCC was an act of an excellent dictation exercise by the reporter. If BBC journalism is merely taking down a couple of quotes gathered by a few vague questions, then that's their prerogative. The public is less informed by reading it.

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