WASHINGTON (CNN) – Democrat Barack Obama stepped up his efforts Tuesday to battle back against e-mails that falsely label him a Muslim, telling an interviewer the ongoing rumors were part of a "systematic political strategy."
"I think it's very important for people not to buy into the kinds of dirty tricks that we've become so accustomed to in our politics, and people need to understand I'm not and never have been of the Muslim faith," he told CBN's David Brody.
Related video: Obama confronts Muslim rumors
In e-mail messages that have been circulating as long as Obama has been a presidential candidate, the Illinois senator is said be a Muslim who refuses to recite the pledge of allegiance, and one who "joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background." In fact, Obama has never been a Muslim.
"I think that those who are of the Muslim faith are deserving of respect and dignity, but to try and feed into this fear-mongering and try to question my faith commitments and my belief in Jesus Christ, I think is offensive," Obama also said. "And I want to make sure that people are absolutely clear about what's going on with this, and if they get another one of these e-mails that they're deleting it and letting their friends know that it's nonsense."
Obama did not hypothesize who was behind the e-mails, but noted, "somehow they appear magically wherever the next primary or caucus is."
His comments are the latest in a heightened effort to beat back the Internet rumors ahead of South Carolina's Democratic primary Saturday.
In recent days, his campaign has launched a TV ad that quotes his now-famous 2004 speech in which he said, "We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes.” And in a new mailer to South Carolina Democrats – the latest in a months-long series of religious-themed messages in the state - Obama is called a "Committed Christian," who "felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life." The mailer pictures the senator standing behind a pulpit, with an organ and a cross in the background.
BEING AN AFRO AMERICAN FEMALE I FEEL VERY PROUD OF THE RACE THAT OBAMA IS FIGHTING I FEEL THAT AMERICA GIVING HIM A FAIR CHANCE HE CAN BRING ABOUT A REFRESHING CHANGE
YOUNG PEOPLE ARE THE ONES THAT WILL BE ONE DAY SOON RUNNING AMERICA AND THEY MUST CHOOSE SOMEONE THAT THEY CAN RELATE TO AND SOMEONE THAT WILL BE CONCERNED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF AMERICA FOR THEM WE HAVE SLIPPED INTO QUITE A GOOD DEAL OF PROBLEMS AND WE CAN NOT SETTLE ANYTHING ANY LONGER WITH JUST OUR CONCEPTS THE WORLD IS CHANGING AND WE ALL NEED ONE ANOTHER.
I DO NOT KNOW WHO WILL WIN THE NOMINATION BUT I HOPE THAT WE ALL TAKE A LOOK AND VOTE WHAT YOU FEEL IS GOOD FOR ALL IN AMERICA IF IS A DEMOCRAT OR REPUBLICAN WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER AND TOGETHER WE MUST STAND AND WE CAN DO IT
The main smear–that Obama is secretly a Muslim–originated about a year ago with Insight Magazine, owned by the same company that owns the Washington Times. YNET news has just reported some versions in Hebrew circulating in Israel. Nine major US Jewish organizations released an open letter a few days ago denouncing the "hateful e-mails." Progressive Christian groups are also speaking out against them, and John Kerry (himself a victim of so-called swiftboating in 2004) is denouncing them.
What we muat learn from these e-mails is that Islamophobia, the irrational hatred of all Muslims, is the new anti-Semitism. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can stop the rightwing extremists from using it to destroy everything that is decent and liberating about America.
The e-mails are false, because Obama is Christian. But this smear campaign attempts to create a negative image of Islam for political reasons. We should judge politicians by their policies and character rather than their religion. And we must always reject religious bigotry, because it would destroy the American way of life.
Interfaith Freedom Foundation