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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 03:27 am

O-bomb-a

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a stupid Internet rumor

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Untitled Document This is the stupidest column I’ve ever written. I just wanted to tell you that up front. And yeah, I know, my last column was about my dog — pretty lame (my column, that is; not Buddy — he’s buoyant as ever). But this one is going to make that Buddy thing look brilliant. This one is about Barack Obama. See, I went home for the holidays. “Home,” for me, is a tiny town so deep in East Texas that it manages to make Springfield look cosmopolitan. I was 16 when we moved away, and even though my parents eventually chose to retire to the piney woods I have managed to visit their burg at a rate of maybe twice per decade. Perhaps for that reason, My Mother decided to try to liven up this visit by inviting my best friend over. I was thrilled; I hadn’t seen Alicia Gail in something like seven years. She was always fun to hang out with — smart and sassy but also sweet. I forgot, though, that she had married a specimen whom she had met at the Rio Palm Isle. He’s apparently good to her; they have two beautiful children, and he has a great job as a medical technician. When he realized that I live in Illinois, he wanted to talk about Obama. “What church does he supposedly go to? Church of Christ? You know Obama’s really a Muslim,” Billy stated. No, I told Billy, Obama isn’t Muslim. In fact, his beliefs align nicely with those of most East Texans — he’s a Bible-believing Protestant. Billy responded by talking about Obama’s stepfather, who supposedly shaped the potential president into a “radical Muslim” during the short time he lived with Barack (then ages 6 to 10). How could this stepfather have possibly accomplished such a miraculous mission in such a short time frame when my mother had me in her house full-time for 18 years and never managed to craft me into anything like a Sunday-school-teaching, choir-singing, pie-baking church lady like herself? My question bounced off Billy like a pingpong ball. “I read it,” he said, “on the Internet.”
Now, if “Muslim” meant something like “Methodist,” we could’ve moved on to talk about the weather. Billy, however, told me that all Muslims want to do is “strap a bomb to themselves and kill people.”
Not that Billy knows a single Muslim personally, mind you. And at this point, I will admit, I lunged across My Mother’s red linen tablecloth and holly-flecked china plates and dainty gold-rimmed saucers and physically grabbed Billy’s burly forearm. “Then you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!” I told him. Alicia Gail nudged her husband. “Didn’t I tell you not to discuss religion or politics with her?”
I tried to tell Billy that I have close friends who have known Barack Obama professionally and personally for years. I tried to tell Billy about some of the Muslims I know. I tried to tell Billy that pigs don’t fly. Everything I said was just more pingpong balls.
So a week later, back in the land of Lincoln and among other commonsensical Midwesterners, I receive a telephone call (one of many, actually) from My Mother. “Honey,” she quavered, “I hate to ask you this, but what proof do you have that Barack Obama is a Christian?”
I repeated this whole nightmare to a friend of mine who was actually employed in Obama’s office during his tenure in the General Assembly — someone who knew the Obama family intimately enough that she could describe for me the décor in their daughters’ bedrooms. She just shook her head and told me about similar claims contained in a recent e-mail from her brother, a college-educated man who lives in another state. How do you combat such a stunningly stupid rumor? Isn’t it enough that CNN thoroughly debunked the whole “madrassa” thing almost a year ago?
I had what I thought was a splendid idea. I did a Google image search for Barack’s wife, Michelle. In most photos she looks like a respected attorney, a devoted mom. In others, however, she looks more like a movie star, wearing dresses that stop short of the knee, evening gowns displaying her bare shoulders, even a tasteful hint of cleavage — nothing scandalous but enough to show Billy and his ilk that Michelle Obama doesn’t fit their stereotype of a proper Muslim wife. Then I phoned Safir Ahmed — former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, former editor of the Riverfront Times, now a book editor specializing in social and political publications (he edited Glenn Greenwald’s New York Times bestseller How Would a Patriot Act?). Ahmed’s also Muslim. But he told me the pics can’t prove that the Obama family isn’t Muslim. “The requirement is to dress modestly, not to wear clothing that would make a man think impure thoughts,” he says. “There are Muslim women who dress [like Michelle Obama]. It’s between you and God.”
So maybe I was wrong about the photos. Billy’s still wrong about Obama. According to Ahmed, most Muslims he knows plan to vote Republican. Seriously.
“There’s no consensus on who they’ll vote for,” Ahmed says. “Obama probably won’t even rank at the top of the list. He’s too far left for a lot of Muslims.” Democratic Muslims lean more toward John Edwards, he says. Word to Billy and My Mother: If you don’t want to vote for Obama, fine, but don’t make your decision on the basis of your misperception that he’s Muslim. After all, the voters of New Hampshire got over that rumor that Hillary’s a Wiccan. 

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com
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