Who exactly is the high-flying black Democrat candidate for presidential nomination? Is he Barack Obama? Or is he Barack Hussein Obama?

The senator himself doesn’t use his middle name, but that hasn’t stopped political opponents from inserting it whenever they refer to him. “This would be merely juvenile if it weren’t so contemptible,” editorialises the Washington Post, which cites several conservatives who routinely add Hussein to Obama’s name. High-rating redneck radio host Rush Limbaugh called him “Barack Hussein Odumbo” in reference to the senator’s allegedly oversized ears.

This follows a completely false story in a discredited right-wing magazine that claimed Obama had attended a radical Islamic madrassa school as a child in Indonesia – in fact he attended a regular school – a story which was picked up and repeated by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and New York Post.

“Mr Obama’s slimers seem to think such name-calling and Muslim-baiting can score points with the American people,” says the Washington Post. “On the contrary, Mr Obama’s multicultural background (his father was Kenyan, and he spent several years living in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather) ought to be viewed as a plus. A president with an understanding of Islam and the developing world would be welcomed by those who too often feel misunderstood and slighted by the United States.”

The Post argues that people who use “Hussein” as a codeword for “Muslim” to stir up scary images of menacing terrorists and evil dictators “embarrass only themselves”.

Perhaps, but in an age of terror the market for racially-inspired political scare tactics remains exceptionally buoyant, in the US and further afield.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey