A couple of new polls show that a growing number of Americans think Barack Obama is Muslim. Why? So far, the Washington Examiner's conservative writer Byron York has the worst explanation: because Obama sometimes mentions his "Muslim roots," confusing everyone!
The reactions to these polls have been pretty overblown: it's really not a big deal that 18% of Americans now think Barack Obama's a Muslim as opposed to 11% last year. Since there haven't been any major revelations in the past year that would cause that number to jump, it's most likely because more people hate Barack Obama and want to label him with what they consider a dirty word. Everyone knows that Barack Obama says he's Christian, too. This was the subject of countless general-interest Time and Newsweek stories through the election. There is not a significant knowledge gap here. Some people just think he's lying.
Byron York, however, does think there's a knowledge gap, and that some of Obama's past statements about his "Muslim roots" have confused low-information voters into believing something that's not true.
The White House blames the situation on a "misinformation campaign" from Obama's opponents. But Obama and his aides might also blame themselves for the way they've handled the Muslim issue over the years.
The question did not come out of nowhere. As Obama said, his grandfather was a Muslim. His father was raised a Muslim before becoming, by Obama's account, "a confirmed atheist." Obama's stepfather was a Muslim. His half-sister Maya told the New York Times that her "whole family was Muslim."
Obama spent two years in a Muslim school in Indonesia and later, in a conversation with the Times' Nicholas Kristof, described the Arabic call to prayer, the beginning of which he recited by heart, as "one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset." Given all that, it is entirely accurate and fair to describe Obama as having Muslim roots.
Yes, that is entirely fair and accurate, to say that he has "Muslim roots." York also notes that Obama discussed his "Muslim roots" in a major speech in Cairo last year. What does this have to do with him being "Muslim," though?
Many people do not pay close attention to news reports. It's entirely possible some of them blurred the distinction between "Muslim roots" and "Muslim," especially since Obama in Cairo celebrated what his campaign had once downplayed. The public may be doing the same thing now, particularly after Obama chose a White House Ramadan iftar dinner to make a high-profile statement in support of the Ground Zero mosque.
Byron York sure thinks his readers are mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging morons, doesn't he? To paraphrase: "Well, since Obama has factually cited his 'Muslim roots' before, and since he recently had a dinner with Muslims, you can't blame this nation of hopeless, illiterate lobotomy cases for thinking he's anything other than the Prophet Mohammad himself," and so on.
It's really not about Obama-induced confusion.
(Oh, and lest we forget: even if Obama was a Muslim, it shouldn't matter, yadda yadda yadda.)