Hussein like me

You may know the founder of Netscape as Marc Andreessen, but on Facebook he has another name: Marc Hussein Andreessen.

Now, Andreessen's middle name begins with an "L," and although his publicist declined to say what that stands for, a bit of Google sleuthing suggests it is probably "Lowell." But he's one of hundreds of Facebook users (including Internet pundit Clay Hussein Shirky) who have changed their middle names to Hussein in recent months.

Facebook can't say how many people have Husseinified themselves this year, but I've seen a few people I know make the change in recent weeks. The Facebook group "My Middle Name is Hussein" now counts nearly 1,000 members, and it's growing fast. And it's not the only group like this on Facebook.

Why?

Through his publicist, Andreessen gave me a two-word answer: "Obama baby."

Of course, he's talking about Democratic presidential contender Barack Hussein Obama.

Obama is named after his Kenyan father, also called Barack Hussein Obama, but as comedian Jon Stewart put it at this year's Oscar ceremony, "You have to give Obama credit, he's overcome a great deal. His middle name is the last name of Iraq's former tyrant and his last name rhymes with Osama."

Obama critics have drawn attention to his middle name for years now, and clearly, some Democrats are tired of it.

As comedian Sarah Silverman said … actually, on second thought I can't repeat what Sarah Silverman said about Obama's name. You'll have to check that one out for yourself. But let's just say she finds it unfortunate.

This Husseinification phenomenon isn't confined to Facebook; that's just where it's most visible.

Here's how it started.

A few days after the Oscars, a blogger on the liberal Daily Kos Web site kicked things off, changing his name to Jeff Hussein Strabone. "Shamelessly repeating his name over and over with seven months to go before the election will wear out whatever rhetorical force it might otherwise have in certain quarters," he wrote.

Groups like My Middle Name is Hussein, which was inspired by Strabone's post, got a boost in June when The New York Times wrote about Husseinification, and the phenomenon seems to have kicked into overdrive in recent weeks as the campaign has turned nastier and the McCain camp has raised questions about Obama's connections and his general trustworthiness.

For the next few weeks we'll undoubtedly be seeing a few more temporary Husseins online, voicing their support for Obama in this odd and oblique way.

Will it make Hussein less strange to the average American? Hard to say, but voting for someone based on their name is just as idiotic as voting based on the color of their skin.

As Diane Hussein Yoder told me, calling herself Hussein for a few weeks is just her way of taking "one small stand against prejudice," by supporting those who are faced with "intolerance and bigotry" just because they have a different-sounding name.

Obama himself made light of the flap over his middle name at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York Thursday. During election years, the dinner, now in its 63rd year, provides a venue where the presidential candidates can, for an evening anyway, set aside their differences through humor about each other and themselves.

During his remarks, Obama said: "And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president."

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