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They say President Barack Obama is a Muslim; they will yet accuse him of being a Hindu. Now there is nothing wrong in belonging to a religion, it's just that the accused says he not guilt as charged. And his team has been pointing accusing fingers; they suspect political opponents in the year of an election. They say the president’s detractors have been peddling rumours; and they do, it is added, for potential political gains.

President Obama has gone on holidays in the heat of it all. Incidentally, his Christmas holiday in Hawaii in 2009 jerked when a Nigerian attempted to detonate a bomb in an airplane landing in Detroit. His holidays in July the same year was ruined, having abandoned it, when the late senator Edward Kennedy lost the battle with cancer. At the moment, the thing that may or may not tamper with Obama’s holidays is his image in the minds of some over his faith. One in five people, or 18 percent, say they think Obama is a Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a recent poll. Thirty four percent says he is a Christian compared to 48 percent in March 2009. This is in a situation where, after the 9/11 attacks, some people have decided to take on the president for showing tolerance. And it is not just over religion alone. There is another major national issue - immigration laws and immigrants. Take the immigration thing, for instance, even some members of the Republican Party take the president’s stand against what is happening in the sate of Arizona up as a new song. The Obama group says it is a new song behind an old one. The Republican governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, sparked off the controversy, and her party has not left her on her own. The GOP sides with her against the president’s insistence that the governor breached the constitution of the United States of America with a state law – the one that empowers police to stop, search and ask about anyone’s immigration status on the streets of Arizona. There is nothing that politicians would not make political gains from. The ember of serious debate over state’s right to do as it wishes with immigrants as Arizona does is monitored across the US. It may yet be an issue in the November election into the congress.

For some time, Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, usually known as Andy Martin has been identified by The Nation, The Washington Post, and The New York Times as the primary source of false rumors that Obama is secretly a Muslim. That was way back before he was sworn into office. But it persists, and people buy into it. People will buy into anything said about celebrities; the reason Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, the president’s pastor, says Obama "is a Christian by choice, a devout Christian," and then adds, "There are a lot of folks who are naive and don't know and they just buy into the strongest voice. Bottom line: They are wrong or misinformed." He means that people buy into rumours.

Most theories agree that rumor involves some kind of a statement whose veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed. It is known that after only a few years of marriage, Prince Charles and Princess Diana were cheating on each other. When Prince Harry was born in September 1984 and his red hair was noticed by the public, rumour had it that Major James Hewitt, the man his mother had affair with, was his father. Diana publicly admitted she had an affair with the major in 1995, but denied the man was Harry’s father. The Sun (London) later serialized a book which clamed that Diana was forced to carry out paternity tests on both Harry and his brother, Prince William. The tests reportedly showed that both boys were fathered by Prince Charles. In September, 1986, the National Enquirer ran a page-one photo of Michael Jackson sleeping in a large glass tube over the headline, "Michael Jackson's Bizarre Plan to Live to 150." The story reported that Jackson had been reposing in a compartment of pure oxygen used by doctors to heal severe wound victims, because he believed it would increase his lifespan (a thing that is not possible medically). Concerning this, one of Enquirer's editorial director stated that Jackson's PR machine and the Enquirer had worked in concert to create the story, which made a great exclusive for the magazine and bought Jackson a ton of free publicity. Also, some US most prominent politicians, including George W. Bush and his father, are members of Yale's secret society Skull and Bones. Bonesmen are sworn to secrecy, so no one knows what really goes on in the Tomb (the group's on-campus headquarters), but rumour about bizarre initiation rituals and connections with shady organizations persisted, and Bush junior and senior still remain at the centre of it.

In the case of the Obama, there is not just rumour for its own sake, the capacity for it to do political damage exists. This is because studies show that fear of Islam is spreading, and is being spread, in America. A political analyst, Ben Smith, says this reveals "more about many Americans' hostility toward Islam. A report shows that ‘telling a pollster that Obama is a Muslim is just another way of expressing disapproval.’ Some also have perception that the religion, not just the radical versions of it, is a threat to America. Another study says, more than before, angry opponents of the President Obama are receptive to falsehoods. The view that Obama is a Muslim is highest among his political opponents (31% of such Republicans). And there is the misinformation in the media. Some have blamed the image issue on 'misinformation campaigns' in the media, orchestrated by the president's opponents. Recently, this has been fueled when the president said Muslims have the right to build an Islamic Centre at Ground Zero, site of one of the 9/11 attacks.

Over all this, one thing is not a rumour: President Obama has made efforts to draw the Islamic world not only to himself, but to America. There is not doubt that this is a step towards achieving global peace; he got the Nobel Prize for promoting peace. But his effort is being turned into a weapon against him at home. There is a role the American media, already accused of helping to spread dangerous misinformation, has to play here. For when Washington gets into the hands of hawks, the nation witnesses what happened in places such as Iraq. America at war is not in the interest of anyone, except those who spread the virus for it, and may yet benefit by selling arms to prosecute it. The fact is, over and above the vociferous few who shout anti-Islam slogans, there are many Americans who work assiduously to promote understanding with people of other religions, as a documentary film, Welcome to Shelbyville (a town in Tennessee), produced by Kim Snyder, which the US Embassy in Nigeria recently promoted in the country, showed. It is time, the American media promotes the president’s efforts to seek peace with all people, and every religion, rather than enliven intolerant tendencies.

Ajibade, a Consultant Writer, lives in Abuja can be reached at [email protected]

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