The Success of Smears: Obama’s Relationship With American Muslims

April 19, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The New York Times runs a very good piece about the strained, tentative and sub rosa relationship between the Obama administration and American Muslim organizations. There’s an insightful bit about how meetings between Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, and U.S. Muslim groups contributed to her department’s repeal of ethnic profiling rules for air-travel screening created by the department after Northwest Flight 253.

At the same time, it’s a testament to how effective the right was at smearing Obama as a clandestine Muslim who planned to replace the Constitution with Islamic law and recruit your children to al-Qaeda. Each Muslim nominee for an administration position receives a level of background-dependent scrutiny from conservative fever swamps that no one of any other background receives. That has the compounding effect of disinclining the administration to seek out qualified Muslims for important roles.

It also has a policy effect. Recall this line from Obama’s speech in Cairo last June about resetting U.S.-Muslim world relations:

[I]n the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Still waiting on that one. The most the administration can say on that front so far is Attorney General Eric Holder has said he’s unsure whether to appeal a decision by a federal judge that the government illegally wiretapped the extremist-linked al-Haramain charity.

This is what a smear is designed to do: raise the political stakes for straying beyond the restricted boundaries of a policy discussion. It’s fear-mongering, pure and simple. And it’s working.