The photo was taken on a 2006 trip Sen. Obama made to Kenya. The picture first appeared on the Drudge Report website which said it was circulated by Clinton's staffers and quoted one saying: "Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were [Clinton]?"
The photo came in the wake of e-mail campaigns claiming Obama was raised a Muslim. Tellingly there is no hint of a denial by Clinton campaign. Asked if the Clinton campaign has been circulating the picture, it has effectively responded: “There’s nothing wrong with the picture.”
Addressing the issue briefly in an interview with a Texas radio station, Obama said: "I think the American people are saddened when they see these kind of politics." "Everybody knows that whether it's me or Senator Clinton or Bill Clinton that when you travel to other countries they ask you to try on traditional garb that you have been given as a gift," he said adding: "The notion that the Clinton campaign would be trying to circulate this as a negative on the same day that Senator Clinton was giving a speech about how we repair our relationships around the world is sad."
The row comes as the rivals campaign for two crucial primaries next week. Analysts suggest Hillary Clinton needs strong victories in both Ohio and Texas to keep her White House campaign alive. But several polls suggest she is trailing Obama. The New York Times Tuesday morning reported two national polls completed Sunday that show a double-digit lead for Obama over Clinton in preference for the Democratic nomination - the Times' own, with CBS News; and one from Gallup with USA Today. Obama has won 11 consecutive primaries and caucuses in recent weeks, and is now seen as the Democratic front-runner.
The photo episode, a cheap shot from Clinton campaign, climaxes the smear campaign against Obama. 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 repeatedly clarified that he has never been a Muslim, but false rumors about Islamic ties keep circulating on the Internet.
It will not be too much to say that those who hatched the Muslim Obama rumors would not have bothered had it not been for a political and cultural environment in which demonizing Muslims and their faith.
The photos are an obvious intent to trigger a mental picture of Obama’s alleged Muslim roots to undermine his campaign and take votes away from his promising presidential campaign run.
Even more troubling is the fact that the mere attempt to argue that a candidate who may have any "Muslim-ness" in his family background should be automatically disqualified from the Presidency.
While religion should not be a factor in selecting a presidential candidate, distortions of faith -- which has included emails absurdly claiming Obama is a "secret Muslim" -- have become a prime example of negative campaigning.
"It is a sad day in America when a Presidential candidate is subjected to a religious test. This type of attack through religious innuendo is not only futile but un-American," said Muslim Public Affairs Council Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati. "Haven't we learned anything since the days when President Kennedy was subjected to a trial of public opinion about his religious affiliation?," he recalled.
When it comes to Muslims, the divisive rhetoric coming out of this year's elections ranges from the exclusionary to the just plain bigotry.
Republican front runner John McCain has said he would prefer a Christian president and that the Constitution established America as a "Christian nation." Before dropping out of the presidential race, Mitt Romney conceded that he would not appoint an American Muslim to a cabinet position because Muslims are a low percentage of the population.
One of Mike Huckabee's campaign advisers, Jim Pinkerton, recently advocated putting a "cop in front of every mosque" in America "just for safekeeping." John Deady, co-chairman of the New Hampshire Veterans for Rudy Giuliani, told the British newspaper The Guardian in late December: "We need to chase [Muslims] back to their caves or, in other words, get rid of them."
The picture episode is a deplorable new low in negative campaigning during this election season and the broader issue we face is: What does this attempt to smear Obama say about our society?