In recent days, "accusations" that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim (as if this were a crime) have emerged again, ahead of the South Carolina primary. These "allegations" first surfaced in anonymous emails, some of which were sent to Jewish organizations. Apparently, those sending them out believed that since all Jews hate Muslims, these revelations would dissuade Jews from voting for Obama - whether in primaries or perhaps in a presidential election. In the wake of these emails, all of the major American Jewish organizations issued a condemnation of the "smear campaign" (see for example this press release by the AJC). What disturbed me at the time was that no one made a point of saying that "although Senator Obama is not a Muslim but a practicing Christian, the implication that a Muslim is not fit to serve as the president of the U.S. is horrifying and goes against the principles of the American constitution."
A few days ago, I saw Obama himself responding directly to the accusations in televised interview aired on CNN's Situation Room. The day before, I had seen him emphasize his belief in Jesus Christ during the debate with his competitors in the Democratic primaries, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. He made a point during that debate of saying that he attends church services and believes in Christianity. During the interview the next day, which may originally have aired on "CBN" (Christian Broadcasting Network), he responded angrily about the smear campaign calling him a crypto-Muslim, something which he found deeply offensive as a sincere Christian. I can certainly understand someone being offended at having their religious beliefs mischaracterized, but again, I found it strange that he was so zealous in distancing himself from the suggestion that he might be a Muslim. Maybe this is the realistic, smart politician thinking. But if Obama couldn't do it, for whatever reasons, then someone else should have stood up and said unequivocally that even if Obama WERE a Muslim, no person's faith qualifies or disqualifies her from running for public office.
Of course, the reality is that for many Americans the faith of a presidential candidate apparently does matter. Mitt Romney's Mormonism is an issue for many evangelical voters. What I find alarming is that Obama's response to the "allegations" might actually reinforce this kind of bigotry. Someone has to stand up to it and show some courage. Why couldn't any of the other candidates say: "I do not think that being Muslim would make a candidate less suited for office than being Christian."