Obama’s inaugural oath

When George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term in 2005, he began his oath of office with the words: “I, George Walker Bush.” Never mind that Bush isn’t in the habit of using his middle name (as opposed to his middle initial, which became the title of an Oliver Stone movie). In inaugural oaths, as in baptisms and other ceremonies, the addition of middle names adds an appropriate note of solemnity.

No controversy surrounded Bush’s inclusion of his middle name in the oath. The same might not be true of a decision by Barack Obama to take his oath as “Barack Hussein Obama” -- which is precisely why he should do so.

Obama was dogged during the campaign by the allegation that he was a secret Muslim, an Islamic Manchurian candidate. Even some commentators who didn’t accuse him of being a practicing Muslim delved into his childhood in Indonesia in search of evidence that he practiced, however briefly, the faith of his father or stepfather. Obama is a Christian, but Hussein, his middle name, is a common Muslim name. To capitalize on anti-Muslim sentiment, detractors took to calling him “Barack Hussein Obama.” (John McCain, to his credit, denounced a radio host in Ohio who “warmed up” a Republican rally by using all three of Obama’s names.)

Stripped of such evil intent, the “Hussein” in Obama’s full name shouldn’t be taboo. Nor should the idea of an openly Muslim citizen deciding to seek the presidency. That point was made eloquently by former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he endorsed Obama. “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” Powell asked. “The answer is no. That’s not America. Is there something wrong with a 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing he or she could be president?”

Most Muslim Americans believe in and are pursuing the American dream, and as Powell also noted, they are sometimes dying for it. Last year, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a survey concluding that American Muslims are “largely assimilated, happy with their lives and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.” The survey also found that “Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries.”

The way to increase those numbers is to make clear that an American with an Islamic faith -- or an Islamic name -- is not a second-class citizen. When the new president takes the oath, he should say, loudly and proudly: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”