Sticks, Stones and Mr. Obama

Sunday, January 28, 2007

IT'S BECOME a fad among some conservatives to refer to the junior senator from Illinois by his full name: Barack Hussein Obama. This would be merely juvenile if it weren't so contemptible. Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers, on "Hardball," was one of the early adopters of this sleazy tactic. "Count me down as somebody who underestimates Barack Hussein Obama," he said. Radio host Rush Limbaugh, demonstrating his usual maturity, got a chuckle out of the senator's allegedly oversized ears, calling him "Barack Hussein Odumbo." And Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council issued this e-mail alert: "Joining an already glutted field of hopefuls, Sen. Barack Hussein Obama (D-Ill.) announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic nomination yesterday."

Insight magazine managed to further degrade the public discourse with a scurrilous "report" alleging that Mr. Obama, as a child in Indonesia, attended a radical Islamic madrassa. In fact, Mr. Obama attended a public school in Jakarta that was predominantly Muslim -- no surprise given that Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country. Insight, whose piece was eagerly touted by Fox News Network, might have learned this if it had bothered to check its story rather than cravenly attributing the false report to "Hillary Clinton's camp," citing unnamed "sources close to the background check" that the New York senator supposedly conducted into Mr. Obama.

When the madrassa story was debunked by CNN and the Associated Press, Insight didn't even have the decency to slink away. "The media uproar over our reporting reveals a media establishment choosing not to ask the tough questions about Obama's Muslim past: If he was raised in a secular household (as he claims), why does he have -- or retain -- Muslim names, Barack and Hussein?" the magazine asked in a posting on its Web site. "Were his father and stepfather as secular as he says? What is the exact nature of Obama's current religious affiliation and what are the beliefs and teachings of his current church in Chicago, the Trinity United Church of Christ?"

Mr. Obama's slimers seem to think such name-calling and Muslim-baiting can score points with the American people. On the contrary, Mr. Obama's multicultural background (his father was Kenyan, and he spent several years living in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather) ought to be viewed as a plus. A president with an understanding of Islam and the developing world would be welcomed by those who too often feel misunderstood and slighted by the United States.

Mr. Obama has never tried to hide his past or his family name: He has written about being educated at a predominantly Muslim school. His father, a non-practicing Muslim, was Barack Hussein Obama Sr. His grandmother is Sara Hussein Obama.

The senator, however, does not use his middle name. Those who take pains to insert it when referring to him are trying, none too subtly, to stir up scary images of menacing terrorists and evil dictators. They embarrass only themselves.

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