Hundreds of thousands of Americans believe — or at least claim to believe — that the next president of the United States is a Muslim, a terrorist, or both.
Right-wing talk radio has been buzzing for months about Barack Obama's supposed hidden past and sinister agenda. According to an April USA Today poll, 10 percent of American voters believed that Barack Obama is Muslim — despite his longtime attendance at Trinity United Church of Christ (with its now-notorious pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright).
Such rumors about Obama were the subject of a "New Yorker" magazine article, including a cover cartoon satirizing the perception of Obama's militant Muslim roots. The claim is essentially that of a conspiracy theory: that Barack Obama and others are part of a plot to destroy America by gaining control of the White House.
But is all this fear and concern legitimate, or just typical hyperbole and election smears? Though the rumors about Obama have been investigated and disproven, what if they were true?
Let's suppose for the sake of argument that president-elect Barack Obama's critics are right, that he actually is a closet Muslim. So what, and what, exactly, would that mean? How would we know? Does anyone really think that Obama will somehow make Islam the official religion of America? Will he interrupt important presidential duties to pray to Mecca five times a day? Will he serve only falafel at the White House? What would it mean if the president of the United States really was a Muslim, and why would that necessarily destroy America?
And if Obama does turn out to be a terrorist, what actions would demonstrate that fact? Would he attack other countries without valid reason or provocation? Would he drop a nuclear bomb on his own country? (Even if he gave that order, does anyone really think that American military commanders would carry it out?) What would it mean if the president of the United States really was a terrorist?
Obama conspiracy pundits don't have answers to these questions. Of course, rumor and logical thought don't mix well, and people can hold whatever opinions they like about Barack Obama. But if they are going to make factual claims about his agenda as a Muslim terrorist, the claims can be held to truth standards. In science, only falsifiable claims are taken seriously; that is, they can be proven correct or incorrect. Claims that can't be tested are meaningless.
Similarly, those who honestly believe that Barack Obama is Muslim, a terrorist, or both, are either right or wrong. Time will tell, and over the coming years Obama's actions and policies will prove it one way or the other.
About four years from now, history will show that in the 2008 presidential election, a significant number of Americans were duped and misled about president Barack Obama's character and agenda. It will be interesting to see which group admits they were wrong.