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"Barack Hussein Obama," they say, "he's a Muslim -- don't trust him!" By "they" I mean the right-wing nutcases who view being a Muslim as a pretty serious character flaw.
Still, though, while I'm obviously put off by the "Obama is Muslim" line, I'm also put off by the media identifying it as a "smear." It is a problematic assertion either way you look at it. Obama is a Christian and he identifies himself as such, yet to openly contest an assertion that he's a Muslim might be grounds for saying, "oh, what, are you anti-Muslim now? Some progressive you are!" Furthermore, it's implicitly anti-Muslim for the media to suggest that obviously being publicly discussed a Muslim is "damaging" to one's reputation. They ought to be addressing that point too when reporting on this topic.
But, to the Obama campaign's response: I would hope that in refuting the idea that Sen. Obama is a member of a religion that he is not actually a member of, he is not trying to prevent "damage" to his reputation necessarily. I know the Obama folks are careful when responding to these claims, but they must respond to them nonetheless.
Why? Because everyone has a right to their own identity. One of the interesting side-effects of being from this wonderfully diverse and accepting country is that sometimes people from very different cultural traditions marry each other. People always talk about how if Sen. Obama is nominated, he could be the first black president and if Sen. Hillary Clinton is nominated, she could be the first woman president. But Obama would actually represent another first: the first child of a interfaith marriage to become president.
I'm Jewish. A lot of people don't immediately assume this about me (for various reasons), but I am and I take it very seriously. My father was raised Christian and my mother Jewish. Much like Obama, I grew up in a pretty secular household and discovered my religion for myself when I was coming of age. It's a complicated story which I won't relate here, but if you read about Obama's background, you can maybe get an idea of what it was like for me (albeit he found Christianity, but I think the process was the same).
Still, I've occasionally felt like other Jews (just some, not all!) judged me or questioned my credibility as a member of the community. It hurts to have to hear something like that because you grew up with exposure (very, very little exposure even) to another tradition. When people say you're not telling the truth about what you really are, it hurts. I certainly mean no disrespect to my Christian friends and peers when I say that, but it doesn't feel good to be labeled as something I'm not.
So in a way, I guess I know how Obama feels. Christianity is the majority religion in this country, but still I can imagine it doesn't feel right to hear from right-wing sycophants that you're something else than what you feel you are. The construction of identity is critical in a presidential campaign, and Obama deserves the right to construct his the way he feels is correct.