It is inaccurate to call Barack Obama a Muslim. Is it a slur?

The Obama campaign suggests it is. A new campaign Web site designed to air and rebut potentially damaging Internet rumors reads in one part: “Smear: Barack Obama is a Muslim… Truth: Sen. Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised as a Muslim and is a committed Christian.”

The characterization highlights a tricky balance the campaign is trying to strike: to tamp down false rumors — intended by some to link the Democratic presidential candidate to radical Islam — without offending Muslims and harming his image of inclusiveness.

Muslim-Americans have made up one of Sen. Obama’s most loyal bases of support since he announced his candidacy last year. But lately some Muslims, concentrated in several battleground states, say they are having second thoughts over his campaign’s ardent defense of his religious background.

“If he were a Muslim, so what? That insinuates that if he were a Muslim, he’s automatically a jihadist. That’s incredibly insulting to people of the Muslim faith and Arabs who are Christian,” says Tony Kutayli, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a Christian.

The issue flared up at a rally in Detroit last Monday, when two Muslim women in hijab, or traditional clothing, were asked to move when they sat behind the podium, where their headscarves would have appeared in photographs and on television with the candidate.

The campaign apologized to the women and noted that they were asked to move by volunteers, not campaign staffers. “This is of course not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama’s commitment to bring Americans together,” said spokesman Bill Burton.

As for the “Fight the Smears” Web site, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor says it was designed to “dispel any and all misinformation,” and the Muslim rumor is misinformation. The “smear,” he wrote in an email, is that “most of these attacks allege that he is a radical Muslim who attended a madrassa.”

The handling of Islam in American politics, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has become a delicate issue. Politicians from President Bush on down have wrestled with how to attack radical Islam without seeming anti-Islam. (MORE)


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