Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

If Obama is some secret Muslim Manchurian candidate intending to help Islamize the world, clearly no one told one group of Muslim militants in Indonesia who, it was revealed this week, planned to assassinate him during his visit to the country.

Clearly they did not share the views of the 1 in 10 Americans who apparently believe their leader is a Muslim.

He's not. But it's worth asking - if he was one, would it make him a bad president? I think it's clear that if he admitted to being a Muslim, he wouldn't have gained the presidency. Many would still have voted for him, but enough people would have been scared off by the thought. It's enough that he is black; black AND Muslim would have been a bridge too far. But whether you like or dislike Obama, what he stands for and the decisions he has made, would he have done anything differently if he were a Muslim? While Obama is religious (Christian) he seems not to be especially zealous in his faith, or at least can separate doctrine from secular realities. So were he a Muslim, most likely his religiosity would be of a similar degree. Thus it would be unlikely that a theoretically Muslim Barack Obama would be any different a president than the real, Christian one.

Then there are those who, while not exactly thinking Obama is a Muslim, see his family background (which contains some Muslims) as being proof enough that he cannot really be trusted to be a good American.

This is from an article by conservative blogger David Goldman last month on what he sees as the Obama administration's reluctance to get tough on Muslim states:

I’ve been screaming about this for more than two years: Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

If that was just one idiot ranting on a blog, it wouldn't matter; unfortunately, Goldman's viewpoint is a common one amongst the anti-Obama brigade.

So how many f***ed up things can a seemingly intelligent person squeeze into one sentence?

Firstly, I'm not sure what Obama's mother's sex life has to do with his ability to be President; or more specifically his approach to the War on Terror. Secondly, Goldman reduces her (Ann Dunham's) two marriages to "going to bed with". Now I'm no expert, but I'm figuring that there was a little more to those relationships than just sex.

Thirdly - "Muslim Third World men"!?!? If a white American falls in love with a brown person from a country that is not as awesome as the US, then clearly there is something wrong with her. Why would she hook up with not one but TWO dark foreign people, when she had so many superior white men to choose from at home? It must be white liberal guilt, because there could be no other reason for it; it's not as if brown people could be attractive or anything.

The highlighting of the Muslim-ness of Obama's father and stepfather is telling, not just because of it's irrelevance, but because it shows how little many white folks on the Right actually know about the world outside their borders. Barack Obama Senior was nominally a Muslim - he had no choice in the matter since he was born to a Muslim father - but was in no way devout, and was generally acknowledged to have adopted an atheist outlook as a young man.

Lolo Soetoro, Obama Junior's Indonesian stepfather, was from all descriptions typically Javanese in his approach to religion. It is true that Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world, and the Javanese (it's largest ethnic group) are almost all Muslims. But Islam as generally practiced in Java is a world away from Middle Eastern Islam; it has many features of pre-Islamic traditions (Hindu, Buddhist and animist) and a huge percentage do not actively follow Muslim daily practices. Soetoro was also described as something of a drinker, who only sometimes went to the mosque; not the picture of a devout Muslim.

To the wingnut who can only see things in a simple way, Obama is a Muslim because his father and stepfather were Muslim, and he spent part of his childhood in a predominantly Muslim country. Of course, he spent vastly more of his life in a predominantly Christian country - the US. And while in Indonesia, he spent 3 years at a Catholic school and 1 year at a public school. So if you ever hear anyone claim that the young Obama went to a madrassa (fundamentalist Islamic boarding school), you'll know instantly that they don't know sh*t.

Whatever one's thoughts about Islam, one thing must always remembered: Muslims are not a monolith. All Muslims are not the same, and being a Muslim does not mean someone is dangerous. And being related to Muslims certainly does not mean someone is dangerous either.


  1. Thank you! This so perfectly states what I have often thought to myself... I know it's getting a bit different in Oz these days but honestly it would never occur to me to ask what religion a politician was. I find the American Christian's insistence that only Christians can run this country sooo creepy, and their Muslim = evil thing is just nutjob. I would love it if instead of saying "He's not Muslim" the left here were more like "What if he was? So effing what?" but even lefty Americans can't get that far.

  2. @ Soda and Candy:

    I think it's understandable, given the current climate in which the primary enemies of the US are Muslim, that voters wouldn't want a Muslim president. But at the same time, a person is obviously far more than the categories (black, male, heterosexual, Christian, etc) to which he or she belongs. And the way that so many people are so eager to believe that Obama is indeed a Muslim (and a Muslim infiltrating agent, no less) shows how warped things can get.