Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gamble In Cairo

To Ed Schultz of MSNBC, it's "psycho talk.... more conspiracy theories about Obama being a secret Muslim." To Keith Olbermann of the same network, it's

....Frank Gaffney, nut job. Now celebrating 20 years of undeserved credibility after a brief tenure as an acting assistant secretary of defense. Kind of like winning an honorary Oscar. Writes today in the “Washington Times” that after his speech last week in Cairo, “there‘s mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one of them himself. Mr. Obama referred four times in his speech to the Holy Koran.”

Holy Koran, Batman. The only evidence mounting here is that Mr. Gaffney may be paranoid. Also his beard, I think there‘s something living in it.


It's too easy to criticize Olbermann by noting that ad hominem ("nut job," "his beard, I think there's something living in it") appears to be his modus operandi these days (especially with regard to Bill O'Reilly, but with the latter's comments about Dr. Tiller, he may deserve it). But what about Keith's criticism that neo-conservative Gaffney charged "there's mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one of them himself"? Gaffney really did say that:

With Mr. Obama's unbelievably ballyhooed address in Cairo Thursday to what he calls "the Muslim world" (hereafter known as "the Speech"), there is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself.

Were Frank Gaffney not a conservative, he might be capable of nuance, of making a point and supporting it without overreaching- but alas, he did repeat the commonly ridiculed, and never substantiated, idea that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Until and unless it is, as is unlikely, ever verified, it remains a charge foolishly made, and ought not to be attempted.

Ironically, Gaffney's argument bears some resemblance to that of the Obamaphiles who believe that the Middle East will be instantly transformed now that the U.S. President has expressed sympathy for the grievances and history of oppression endured by the Palestinians. Barack Obama has uniquely communicated with the Muslims of the Middle East, they claim. And Gaffney, too, argues that Obama labored mightily, and successfully, to relate to his audience, doing so in part by using three highly significant phrases:

* "the Holy Koran," which, Gaffney notes, is not used by Muslims, but, as he fails to note, is reminiscent of the Christian reference to "the Holy Bible," and thus an expression of great respect;

* Islam as being "first revealed" on three continents- "revealed," Gaffney maintaining, being a phrase used by Muslims in belief that the Koran is the word of God; and Gaffney failing to note, a word appearing 62 times in the Bible, not including Paul's contention in Galatians 1:12: "For I did not receive it from any man (i.e., the gospel), nor was I taught it, but I recieved it through a revelation of Jesus Christ";

* "as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them) joined in prayer;" "peace be upon them," Gaffney stating, as a phrase Muslims invoke as "a way of blessing deceased holy men;" and "Moses, Jesus and Muhammad" suggesting an equivalence of Muhammad (and Moses, as it were) and Jesus, whom Christians )of whom Obama is one) believe is the Son of God, one in essence with the Father.

Of a piece with Gaffney's claim that Barack Obama may be a Muslim (a possibiity he later brands as possibly "irrelevant") is his silly reference to ACORN, reflecting the right's childish obsession with that community organization. (And Gaffney is blissfully unaware that the Bureau of the Census is legally prohibited from requiring responses as to religious affiliation and thus warns against use of its data on religion.) However, he draws this apt parallel:

During his White House years, William Jefferson Clinton -- someone Judge Sonia Sotomayor might call a "white male" -- was dubbed "America's first black president" by a black admirer. Applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America's first Muslim president.

Neither Toni Morrison nor anyone else actually believed Bill Clinton was black, just as no one has good cause to believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. But Clinton's ability to identify with, and relate to, black Americans, was strategically advantageous. Perhaps, as President Obama's admirers have suggested, the ability of our current President to demonstrate sympathy toward, and empathy with, Muslims may prove strategically advantageous both in the quest for peace in the Middle East and global security from terrorism. Or perhaps, as Gaffney argues, in "aligning himself" with questionable forces abroad,

the president will greatly intensify the already enormous pressure on peaceful, tolerant American Muslims to submit to such forces - and heighten expectations, here and abroad, that the rest of us will do so as well.

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