By Steven Tavares
When photos of Sen. Barack Obama wearing traditional garb of a Somali elder and turban, Muslims around the country saw what they feared: a presidential talking point disguised as a proxy against their religion.
In the days since the infamous photo appeared Feb. 25 on the website, “The Drudge Report” Muslims, including bloggers, have criticized the implication of Obama, who is Christian, being tied with extremist Islamic views.
“I don’t like it, but I knew it was coming,” said Nasir Mohammed, a 32-year-old mechanic from Fremont, “Bush dressed up in Chinese clothes and nobody said he was a communist.”
Matt Drudge, the conservative blogger, who also broke the Monica Lewinsky story in 1998, wrote on his website that the photo of Obama, taken during a visit to Kenya in 2006, was distributed by various staffers from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
On Obama’s campaign website, David Plouffe, the candidate’s campaign manager, described the tactic as “the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election”.
While the connotation that Obama is, in fact, Muslim was unsettling, some Muslims are more pragmatic.
Ahmad Helmand, a security guard from Hayward who immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in the early 1980’s, believes that the Muslim world would look proudly to the United States if they voted someone of color or of a different faith than the majority of Americans.
“It doesn’t matter to me, because he said he’s Christian,” said Helmand, “If people want to believe he’s a terrorist, then so be, they’re probably racist anyway.”
A day after Drudge’s posting, conservative talk-show host, Bill Cunningham, introduced Sen. John McCain at rally for his campaign for the republican presidential nomination, by referring to Obama by his entire name, which includes his middle name Hussein.
McCain later apologized to the Obama campaigned, but the meme of the candidate with a middle eastern-sounding name wearing a turban has been set in the minds of many voters.
Juan R. I. Cole, the noted University of Michigan professor who specializes on middle east affairs, found the blatant use of Obama’s full name to be inappropriate.
On his website, he wrote, “Denigrating that name is a form of racial and religious bigotry of the most vile and debased sort. It is a prejudice against names deriving from Semitic languages,” said Cole.
He also noted that other famous Americans in history like World War II Gen. Omar Bradley and Benjamin Franklin also had derivations of middle eastern surnames.
“I don’t think people really care what a person’s name is as long as they have money in their pockets,” said Mohammed.