Who is responsible for the baseless email smear campaign claiming Barack Obama is a Muslim? You know, the various emails claiming that Obama was born into Islam, isn't a real Christian, is hiding a radical Islamic upbringing, or that he chose to be sworn into the US Senate with a Koran--all misinformation designed to undermine the Democratic presidential candidate. Look, there's Dick Cheney posing with a Koran!
The Washington Post reports on the attempts of Dr. Danielle Allen, a political theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study, to trace the origin(s) of these email chains. Interestingly, some of her first clues emerged as the result of simply Googling some of the more unusual phrases contained in the various emails. The changing terminology and addition or subtraction of certain claims in the malicious email messages seemed synchronized with certain individuals' contributions to the FreeRepublic website. Dr. Allen's investigative journey highlights both the ease and complexity involved with spreading misinformation via the internet. The article also quotes the man who credits himself as the first to label Obama a Muslim back in 2004, Andy Martin, a former Illinois political opponent of Obama.
This smear campaign isn't new, of course. Such nefarious emails followed Obama throughout the primary process, coincidentally surging in states with upcoming primaries or caucuses. One would think that such an obvious attempt to Swiftboat the candidate would by now have run its course. However, as the Washington Post article reports, polls suggest the number of voters who believe Obama is a Muslim is actually increasing (from 8 percent of voters in November of 2007 to 13 percent in March, 2008). So, expect to see more of these deplorable rumors and insinuations to arrive in your inbox during the general election.
Democrats should fight back. Direct people to websites like FightTheSmears.com and isbarackobamaamuslim.com, but don't stop there! Perhaps we should start publishing the email addresses of the people who send us such emails. We could use our blogs, YouTube, social networks, Flickr, wikis, and numerous other Web 2.0 tools to expose the persons who are actively spreading these baseless rumors and misinformation. Let them receive a barrage of replies to provide clarity of the facts--and their own morality.