Edward N. Luttwak: Called on the carpet by NYT public editor

Historians in the News

ON May 12, The Times published an Op-Ed article by Edward N. Luttwak, a military historian, who argued that any hopes that a President Barack Obama might improve relations with the Muslim world were unrealistic because Muslims would be “horrified” once they learned that Obama had abandoned the Islam of his father and embraced Christianity as a young adult.

Under “Muslim law as it is universally understood,” Luttwak wrote, Obama was born a Muslim, and his “conversion” to Christianity was an act of apostasy, a capital offense and “the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit.” While no Muslim country would be likely to prosecute him, Luttwak said, a state visit to such a nation would present serious security challenges “because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards.”

At a time when fears about Obama’s security keep bubbling to the surface and an online whispering campaign suggests that he is secretly a Muslim — call him by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, some Times readers demand — the Luttwak thesis was a double whammy: Obama cannot escape his Muslim history, and a lot of Muslims might want to kill him for trying.

Many Times readers saw the article as irresponsible (“gasoline on the fire,” said Paul Trachtman of Tierra Amarilla, N.M.) or false (“Islam is not like our hair or the color of our skin, which we inherited from our parents,” said Ali Kamel of Rio de Janeiro). The blogosphere lit up with assertions that Luttwak did not know what he was talking about.

The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions. But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture....
Read entire article at Clark Hoyt in the NYT

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Randll Reese Besch - 6/4/2008

One shouldn't punish the messenger for the message. I think that was from the Persian Empire's way of dealing with messages they don't like.

As long as people are so rigid and violent a response to contrary views are both childish and dangerous. The USA deals with it by bombing, subverting, embargoing and sending special forces to create terrorist actions to those who disagree with the Christian USA's way of doing things. No Muslim country does that at this time. And shouldn't.

Charles Lee Geshekter - 6/4/2008

Thank you Art Eckstein.

That anyone would chasten or scold the scholarly Luttwak for his sensible and persuasive argument offers more proof that many Americans remain unable or unwilling to think critically about Islam.

art eckstein - 6/2/2008

I hope that Ali Kamel of Rio's attitude is a typical one. But in a recent poll, 33% of British Muslims aged 18-30 believed that apostasy from Islam should be punished by death. That's BRITISH Muslims.

We should not sugarcoat the problem, nor blame the messenger (in this case, Luttwak) for pointing to it.