A new survey by PPP (Public Policy Polling) finds that Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi believe, by large margins, that President Obama is a Muslim. PPP asked Republicans in both states, “Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, or are you not sure?”
In Alabama, a near-majority (45 percent) said “Muslim,” while 41 percent said “unsure.” Only 14 percent said Obama is a Christian.
In Mississippi, a majority (52 percent) said the president was Muslim, while 36 percent said they are unsure and only 12 percent said Obama was a Christian.
Republicans in these states hold these views despite Obama’s own public profession of Christian faith and the fact that there’s no credible evidence that he’s a Muslim. And yet this belief persists. Why?
It’s impossible to know without doing more research and in-depth interviews. But my hunch is that there are several factors at play.
One of them is the belief of some Republicans that because Obama is a political liberal, he cannot be a Christian. I strongly dissent from this view, but there are those who believe the only “good” Christian is a conservative one; that faith in Jesus translates into a high score from the American Conservative Union. Another reason undoubtedly has to do with Obama’s family history (his father and step-father were Muslim) and his middle name. A third reason may have to do with the durability of Internet conspiracies. We live in an age in which people can find sources of support for virtually any view they hold, including elaborate conspiracy theories. And of course one cannot discount simple ignorance as a factor.
But there’s something deeper and more disturbing going on, I think. We live in a political culture that is so polarized that for some people, the worst thing that is said about one’s political opponent is assumed to be true. Being a Muslim shouldn’t automatically disqualify a person from being a president, of course; but for many people who (absurdly) assume that being a person of the Muslim faith and being a jihadist are interchangeable, it is.
Like the birth certificate issue, the claim that Obama is a Muslim [read: terrorist sympathizer] is a pernicious effort by some to discredit and disqualify him. It focuses on make-believe charges at the expense of real policy disagreements. But in some respects it’s even worse than the birth certificate issue, because it attempts to divide us on explicitly religious grounds, something that America at its best has always avoided.
I served a president who was at the center of crazy left-wing conspiracies. Ben Smith, then of Politico, reported: “More than half of Democrats, according to a neutral survey, said they believed Bush was complicit in the 9/11 terror attacks.” They asserted this not because there was a shred of evidence to support it but because they wanted to believe the worst they could about a president they had come to hate.
Those on the right shouldn’t replicate a similar tactic when it comes to President Obama. The GOP presidential candidates, if and when they’re asked about it, should do everything they reasonably can to discredit this belief which is, in some places at least, widespread. There are right ways and wrong ways to win elections – and Obama should not lose this election, or even a single vote, based on the false claim that he’s a Muslim.