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To Hussein or not to Hussein? Facebookers duke it out

October 31, 2008 | 11:35 am

Obama supporter

It all started as a way to prove solidarity with Barack Obama and take a stand against people who associated the presidential candidate with terrorists because of his middle name, Hussein. Hundreds of supporters on Facebook added "Hussein" as their middle name on the site and joined groups such as "Take The Middle Name 'Hussein' for Barack Obama." There were thousands of them. There was Marc Hussein Andreessen. Clay Hussein Shirky. Kate Hussein Wetherhead. Peter Hussein Honeyman. James Hussein Shaw. Patricia Hussein Washburn.

But Facebook, like other communities, hosts people of many different political persuasions. They also had something to say about Hussein as a middle name. So they started their own Facebook groups. Now, there are more than 100 groups on the social networking site concerning the issue of adopting Hussein as a middle name.

They include the likes of (you may need to be a Facebook member to view them):

Support Obama – Add Hussein as your middle name to protest misconceptions

Anyone with the middle name "Hussein" should not be president of the U.S.

Saying Barack's middle name is "Hussein" doesn't make you a racist

Enough already with the "I changed my middle name to 'Hussein' on Facebook"

The groups and the discussion among them have made some participants marvel at the way Facebook allows them to engage in political discourse with people they didn’t previously know. Still others make fun of them for talking politics on a social network that also houses pictures of people drinking beer.

Alex Freeman, a music professor at Carleton College, started his 5,134-member group, I'm changing my Facebook name to Hussein, a few weeks ago.

"In a small way, I thought I could defuse the bigotry, or at least the fear," he said. Supporters he didn’t know posted compliments on the group's homepage, including one whose actual middle name was Hussain. Dissidents also posted, telling him his idea was stupid. While Freeman was sleeping, one Turkish group posted dozens of pictures of genocide on the site as sabotage. Still, Freeman thought the group was effective.

"One guy wrote and said, 'This is retarded, you’re not doing anything,' " Freeman said. "I explained it to him, and he said he saw my point and joined."

Same with Casey Godwin, a 16-year old from Dunn, N.C., who started the group His Middle Name is Hussein, for Pete's Sake, which featured a photo saying "Beware Obama and bin Laden." Godwin, an Obama supporter, says she started the group ...

... to mock all the McCain supporters in her small town who think Obama is a terrorist. Not everyone got the sarcasm: one comment on the page read "I think it's so great that so many members of this group are apparently from North Carolina. Guess what? NC is going to be BLUE this November! Get used to President Obama Hussein."

Also in support of the Hussein-as-middle-name camp was Leah Hunter, a West Hollywood resident who works in the film industry. After changing her name, she received messages from other Hussein middle names she didn’t know.

"It's gone across racial lines, age groups," she said. "It’s been really cool how people have been connecting over something so small as a middle name."

She found that changing her middle name on Facebook invited some confused responses from her right-leaning high school friends in Jacksonville, Fla. One, who supports John McCain, wrote to ask her if she was "really voting for Osama bin Laden." It gave her an opportunity to talk politics with him on Facebook, each arguing for their own candidate. She probably wouldn't have had that type of discussion otherwise, she said.

But Michael Jannol thinks it's all lame. The L.A. resident, who works for a nonprofit, created a group called My middle name isn't Sidney. Yours isn’t Hussein. So shut up!!! It has 15 members. His bone to pick with Hussein Facebookers? "I think it's a silly way to take a stance on an issue," he said. "It’s on Facebook, where there are also pictures of people’s cats."

Matt Hanson agrees. He founded the Saying Barack's middle name is "Hussein" doesn't make you racist group after a friend took offense at a photo he had posted of Obama that included the candidate's middle name. She likened the photo to a swastika, accused him of being in the Ku Klux Klan and reported him to Facebook for posting racially offensive material. He and a friend started the group because they were sick of overly politically correct people on Facebook. Most of the comments he got after he started the group were supportive.

But Brandon Saurber, a marketing professional in southwestern Ohio, said Facebook is the perfect place to discuss politics, racism and the middle name Hussein. He started the group "I am aware that his middle name is Hussein and I don't give a ...." He received many positive and negative e-mails after starting the group, which has 46 members.

"Maybe there are more formal or more academically accepted ways to voice your opinion," he said. But he sees Facebook as the perfect place to have a discussion among the college-aged crowd, especially because most of them spend much more time on Facebook than they do reading the news. With a group like his, he said, he hopes that "certain people who don't take an active interest in politics may see something like this and get exposed to a new idea."

A note to those who might read this post and accuse the "liberal media" of talking to mostly pro-Obama supporters: I reached out to groups on both sides of the Hussein-middle-name debate, but received responses only from the above groups. If you have any thoughts or comments about Hussein as a middle name, we welcome them from any political persuasion in the comments below.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo by Al Grillo / Associated Press

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