Blogs > Cliopatria > A Malicious Charge

Jan 25, 2007 12:07 am

A Malicious Charge

I was waiting for it. Ever since some right-wing nutizens started claiming that Obama went to a madrasa, I had been waiting for this.

Here is Senator Obama's response:
To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa.

These malicious, irresponsible charges are precisely the kind of politics the American people have grown tired of, and that Senator Obama is trying to change by focusing on bringing people together to solve our common problems.

I was hoping that Obama's response would NOT be to proclaim his horror at being called a MUSLIM. Is it really the end of a political career to have a father who was a Muslim? Or to have gone to a school in Indonesia? Couldn't he have just said, 'Madrasa' is just the word 'School' (click here - to see an American Madrasa in Marrakesh! Or Click here to see another one in Doha!) Or that he is proud of his heritage and his lived experience in that world, even if he, himself, is a Christian. Why the need for such vehement distancing? But, yes, he responds by calling this story"a malicious and irresponsible charge. An accusation meant to hurt and smear.

There you have it, the state of Islamophobia in America today, is not in the parade of terrorists on 24 but in a simple declaration:"He is a Muslim".

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David Silbey - 1/26/2007

"Why it is Obama's special obligation to honor the claim of Muslims is not clear to me."

Because that's the form of bigotry specifically being mobilized against him?

Manan Ahmed - 1/25/2007

I don't know anything about the obligation being "special" but denouncing hatred, racism and bigotry oughta be standard practice for all public officials. Except for those peddling such things, of course.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/25/2007

I agree that we have larger problems than a rumor -- as multiply inaccurate, mean-spirited, and hateful as it was. Every constituency -- African American, Muslim, evangelical, Catholic, Buddhist, multiple Asian-American, Jewish, secular humanist, Hispanic -- has a claim on all presidential candidates. Why it is Obama's special obligation to honor the claim of Muslims is not clear to me.

Manan Ahmed - 1/25/2007

Depends on what you think was "devastating" about the criticism. If the simple fact that he was tangentially associated with Islamicate culture is devastating, then we have bigger problems than a rumour. And as a Presidential candidate, hoping to represent millions of American Muslims, he owes allegiance to some other truths than his own demoninational affinities.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2007

I haven't watched it since the first season, to be honest. I thought the structure was clever. Once. The artificiality of the plots is too much: I never really enjoy "criminal mastermind / obscure conpsiracy" plots all that much.

I suppose I should, at some point, catch up a bit, because it is a centerpiece narrative around which all others tend to move.

I find this at least as disturbing, perhaps more....

Ralph E. Luker - 1/25/2007

I'm not sure that I fully agree. Obama was responding to what was meant to be a devastating criticism. In that context, he need not have taken on a defense of Islam or Muslim identity. He did what was called for. He asserted what was true.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/25/2007

That's an interesting question.

To call someone a homosexual in this country should not be an insult, but in politics it probably is.

In World War I, to say that someone loved German culture was likely to be an insult, except in places like Milwaukee.

What we needed from Obama was something more like this. "I find no insult in being called a Muslim, but I denounce those who hope to inflame the bigotry and the fears of some Americans by calling me a Muslim."

Manan Ahmed - 1/25/2007

"there is a serious debate on the question of Islam in the modern world that goes beyond, even in popular culture, simple demonization. "

I love 24. Seriously.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2007

I did hear about the stunt (through, among other places Orcinus, where it kicked off a multi-post series on ethnic cleansing in US history), but it wasn't quite as definitive as the Wikipedia article makes it sound. Not that I doubt the degree of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country: there've been plenty of other polls and outbursts.

I'm also not entirely sure I accept the the "one storyline" thesis: there is a serious debate on the question of Islam in the modern world that goes beyond, even in popular culture, simple demonization. The broader discussion argument about whether Islam is fundamentally hostile to democracy, etc., is not finished, though there are plenty of loud voices trying to foreclose it.

Manan Ahmed - 1/25/2007

I could have told you that "madrassa" has traditionally meant religious schools, but not that it meant "school" generally.

And that's my point. There is only one storyline and its a demonizing one. For example, the al-madrasa al-amerikiyya is the American School of Kuwait. Here is the hate-peddling, traditional religious website.

And yes, anti-Muslimism or Islamophobia [the UK term] is creeping onto the forefront of public discource - whether politics or not. Did you catch the recent stunt by a radio talk host who asked his audience whether Muslims should be branded to be publicly visible [made to wear a color or band etc] and the enormous outpouring of agreement for the idea.

Alan Allport - 1/25/2007

He responds by calling this story "a malicious and irresponsible charge." An accusation meant to hurt and smear.

Isn't that a statement of fact?

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2007

Some scattered thoughts:

Not that it's going to make it much better, but the accusation is a little more subtle than just being Muslim: it's about deception. Nobody's using the "crypto" label yet, (actually, I just googled it, and some people are, but only in response to the outing of the charge as spurious) but it's what they're thinking.

Until you posted this, I could have told you that "madrassa" has traditionally meant religious schools, but not that it meant "school" generally. The only time the term is used in the english-language press is in reference to hard-core alternatives to secular education.

There's a long tradition (going back at least to "The Manchurian Candidate" in political circles and a lot further in social exclusionism) of the "snake in the grass" narrative. Actually, this almost fits the even older "changeling" narrative....

Keith Ellison has demonstrated that it's possible for a Muslim to be elected to high office, though at a more local level, as well as highlighted the incredible anxiety and anti-Muslimism (there's no simpler term for that, is there?). We've never had anyone successfully run for President without very strong Christian roots; Obama would probably be just as defensive if he'd been accused of being a crypto-atheist....

I don't know: it's still very disturbing, both the accusation and the, if you'll pardon the expression, ham-handed way it was handled by Obama, who could have taken a lesson from Ellison.....

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