Citation: Tariq, A. and Moody, M. (2009). Barack Hussein Obama: Campaigning While (Allegedly) Muslim. American Communication Journal (ACJ) American Communication Journal (11) 4
This textual analysis looks at how diverse news outlets framed the rumor that Sen. Barack Obama is Muslim during the 2008 Presidential Election. Researchers argue such an analysis provides insight into the nature of American attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims, and the power of these attitudes to influence an event as extensive as a national campaign. Common frames were “Arabic words,” “concealment of past” and “Obama’s foreign sounding name.” In the United State’s current atmosphere post September 11, Arab ethnicity, Islamic faith, and the evils of terrorism and war have been fused together so that association with one of these factors inevitably leads to implication in the others. Thus, suggesting that a U.S. presidential candidate is an Arab or a Muslim translates into a much more sinister accusation.
Religion was a prominent frame in the coverage of Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 Presidential Election. Many myths and misrepresentations emerged, but perhaps the biggest one was Obama is Muslim. Commentators carried out this frame by mentioning his middle name Hussein and by associating him with Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan.
On Oct. 10, 2008, with only 25 days to go before the 2008 Presidential election, Republican nominee Sen. McCain fielded an uncomfortable question from an audience member during a town hall debate. “I can’t trust Obama,” a woman confessed. “I have read about him and he’s not… he’s an Arab.” McCain quickly recaptured the microphone from her hands. “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen.”
Though his statement served as a respectful defense of his opponent, McCain’s words unwittingly revealed a significant undercurrent in the American consciousness—Muslims are bad. To counter the woman’s claim, McCain did not state that Obama was of Caucasian and African heritage. Nor did he address the implicit allegation in the comment–that as an Arab, Obama must also be a Muslim–by informing her that Obama was a Christian and a longtime member of the United Church of Christ. Instead, he refuted the accusation of “Arab” with the words “decent family man, citizen,” as though the two labels were mutually exclusive.
Colin Powell addressed Christian fear and bigotry surrounding Muslims in America on Meet the Press. He concluded that if a American Muslim wanted to run for president of the United States, there should not be negativity associated with it. Here is the excerpt: (more…)