Metro New York: Obama's tribal garb photo stirs up outrage

Muslim groups call ploy ‘abhorrent’

A furor erupted yesterday as a photo of Barack Obama in a white turban spread across the Web, drawing accusations of fearmongering and racism from the Obama campaign and Muslim groups.

“It seems that the intention is to imply that the traditional garb of a certain culture is evil,” saidAhmed Rehab, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Whether it was the [Hillary] Clinton campaign or the [John] McCain campaign, the whole intention was abhorrent,” Rehab said.

The photo was taken on a 2006 trip Sen. Obama made to Somalia, and was lifted from the e-mail of a Clinton campaign staffer, according to the Drudge Report Web site, where it first appeared. The photo came in the wake of e-mail campaigns claiming Obama was raised a Muslim.

Voters on the street questioned the usefulness of such attacks. “It might be a setup by his opponents, but either way it doesn’t matter to me,” said Katrina Croul, 21, of Philadelphia. Brian Anderson, 27, said, “I think it’s just a political ploy for other candidates.”

“But is it really a dirty trick?” asks Raymond Smith, a political science professor at Columbia University. Smith feels if the photo is genuine, then it is fair game. “It’s better for Obama to get these sorts of photos and ideas out in the open now, before the Republicans have completely trained all their focus on him,” he said.

To First Amendment advocates such as Joan Bertin, incidents like these are a necessary evil.

“There would be major league problems if you tried to regulate the press on these issues,” said Bertin, of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “For better or for worse it is the price of freedom.”

E-mail smears

In December, two Clinton Iowa volunteers resigned after forwarding a hoax e-mail that falsely said Obama is a Muslim possibly intent on destroying the United States. Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ and says he has never been a Muslim, but false rumors about Islamic ties are circulating on the Internet.

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