Obama: U.S. One of World's Biggest Muslim Nations

After doing his best during the presidential campaign to play down any connection to the faith of his Muslim-born father, President Barack Obama has declared the United States to rank among the world's larger Muslim nations.

In a transcript released by the White House of an interview with Laura Haim of Canal Plus said:

Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.
Of course, Obama's claim about the U.S. being one of the world's biggest Muslim nations needs to be put into perspective. British blogger Don Surber of the Daily Mail points out that the United States' estimated 5 million to 8 million Muslims constitute less than 3 percent of the country's population.

"By sheer number," Surber notes, "the United States is far behind Indonesia (213 million), Pakistan (156 million), Bangladesh (127 million) and so on. At least 23 nations have more Muslims."

Then again, who's counting?

Apparently, a number of people - especially after the New York Times ran the story, "Obama Says U.S. Could Be Seen as a Muslim Country, Too."

The White House had to know what was in store, and it was not long in coming as the blogosphere began to percolate with persnickety posts asking breathlessly whether this actually was true.

Townhall.com headlined its story "Obama Makes Foolish Statement..." and accompanied with an old picture of Obama dressed in a white turban, while Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer called it "a crazy idea," suggesting he got it from "Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN). "

But this was less of a Manchurian candidate scenario than a Kodak moment in the development of Obama's foreign policy toward the Arab (and Muslim) world. As he heads to Cairo, Egypt, where he is scheduled to deliver what has become a much-anticipated speech, Obama is practicing the kind of politics that skillful big city politicians have embraced for generations. Eat a knish here, a gyro there and then wash it down with good Irish whiskey.

For Obama's speech to resonate, he'll have to hit chords among his listeners that have eluded most U.S. political leaders since the September 11 attacks. A recent report from the Brookings Institution shows that Obama heads to Egypt with a 45 percent favorability rating in the Arab world. But as University of Michigan scholar Juan Cole, points out in Salon, that rating climbs to 60 percent when you subtract Egypt from the mix.

Of course, if all it takes for Obama to boost his popularity numbers in the region is to play up his family's Muslim connection, I'm sure someone in the administration would make sure he gets photographed eating humus in a kaffiyah.

If only it were that easy.

Obama's Trip: Complete Coverage

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.