One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be more optimistic in 2007, but before I could even make it to February, I threw in the towel. The quick and final blow was a recent (Clinton-backed?) “allegation” that Senator Barack Obama is a Muslim.

In fact, it gets worse. Not only was Obama’s biological father a non-practicing Muslim who left him at age two, but Obama also spent at least two more years of his childhood under the auspices of Muslim teachers. Along with Obama’s Islamic middle name (Hussein), bloggers and anchors have used this trifecta of evidence to suggest that Obama may secretly be a Muslim himself. No further explanation is needed, of course, to make us understand that this is “bad.” The way these allegations have been painted, it seems that Muslims are the plague of the modern era—the one enemy in a world of crumbling moral fabric and disintegrating Christian ideals—and that Americans might as well resurrect Saddam Hussein and place him in the White House if they are willing to elect a “Muslim” from Illinois with the middle name “Hussein.”

It’s hard for me—as a half-Muslim myself, but more so as an American—to not see an empty glass in this situation. Not only will these rumors cost a deserving and honest candidate votes, but they further spread the acceptability of xenophobia in our media and our society. Muslims, in particular, have become an easy target for sensationalist media with thriving post-9/11 McCarthyism. Never mind the fact that Obama is a committed Christian; an even-speculative connection to Islam is enough in some people’s eyes to discredit his entire life’s work. Like the rumors spread about Senator John McCain’s illegitimate black child in 2000, this political slander is—sadly enough—unquestionably effective. Obama’s political opponents might as well have hit the jackpot.

Forty-seven years ago, John F. Kennedy ’40 faced similar religious targeting as the first Roman Catholic President of the United States. To combat unabashed anti-Catholic prejudice, Kennedy chose to address the issue in a 1960 speech to the Houston Ministerial Association, in which he highlighted his disappointment that religion was obstructing debate about social reform even though the American constitution purposefully separates church and state.

He said, “It is apparently necessary for me to state once again, not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.” Unfortunately, the message I have learned from this recent media frenzy is that the two are inseparable, that America 47 years later is no different than Kennedy’s America: Shrouded in hollow patriotic discourse, it is an America that is skeptical of any leader who is not rooted in (Protestant) Christian mores. It is the same America that markets non-Middle Eastern oil as “terror-free,” and one that lauds multiculturalism while spreading fears of blood-sucking Muslims that might live among us—or worse, might attempt to lead us.

Having found another politician of good character, solid record, and engaging personality, right-wing media outlets, from Insight Magazine to Fox News, and supposedly other Democratic candidates are making a mountain of Obama’s trivial connection to Islam; if they can’t attack him, then they can attack Islam instead, which is so easily stereotyped as a radical threat to the safety of America. They are aided in this non-specific witch hunt by news stories such as CNN’s “Radicals vs. Moderates: British Muslims at Crossroads” which is accessible by clicking the link, “Radical Muslim: We Drink Our Enemies’ Blood.” The ridiculousness of that title should be self-evident, but the irony is even better: The article itself intends to highlight the growing resentment of moderate Muslims to radicals within their religion.

The “Obama-Osama” hype is depressing for more than its disregard of religious tolerance and blatantly ignorant parallels. Enormous media attention is being wasted on this gossip at the expense of useful political debates that should take place now that political campaigns begin a year and a half before election day.

This campaign strategy relies (apparently, successfully) on the ignorance of the greater American public and, once again, on the fear of a country in need of role models like Obama now more than ever. Even if Obama retains the votes his opponents seek to dislodge, the message that “Muslims are bad” cannot be erased from this campaign or the consciousness of the American people. Obama is not a Muslim—a fact worth repeating for accuracy, not defense—but it is clear that any tenuous association is enough these days. Earlier this month, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, was sworn in as a member of the 110th on a copy of the Qur’an that belonged to none other than Thomas Jefferson (Why do you think the $2 bill was phased out?). Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode criticized Ellison’s oath as a threat to traditional American values and warned that more Muslims could (God forbid!) be elected unless America tightens its immigration laws.

I guess in a way I should feel liberated. I can’t say that I have any desire to become president, but it is relieving to know that I can do whatever I want without worrying about how it would look in a campaign 20 years down the road. With the middle name “Osama” (and of course my womanhood), I can already count myself out.

We—Americans, that is, and especially we Harvard students—are taught from a young age to believe that no dream is impossible, and are encouraged to reach for the stars. But it takes only one magazine article to make me understand that rhetoric is patently false. I now know that the biggest American Dream is well beyond my reach.

Nadia O. Gaber ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Kirkland House. She is the president of the Society of Arab Students.