12 May 2008

Wait until they find out Obama is a Christian, says "scholar"

In a piece of wacky logic and the worst example of Orientalism I've ever seen in the New York Times, Edward Luttwak, a fellow with the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), has claimed that, if Muslims found out that Barack Obama "chose to become a Christian", they would try to kill him. According to Luttwak, the hope among many Americans that a victory by Obama in the general election would improve American relations with the Islamic world is "a mistake".

Luttwak disingenuously calls Obama "the son of the Muslim father" (sic), while Obama has written that his father had become an atheist before marrying Barack's mother. In Luttwak's words, this fact "makes no difference". But according to whom? Which Islamic scholar would say that a child born to an atheist father and an agnostic mother must practice Islam when he has grown up? Can Luttwack cite even one such scholar?

Further, Luttwak argues that "under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother's Christian background is irrelevant." This statement, I'm afraid, is a simple case of deception. There is nothing in the Qur'an about punishing apostates, so Luttwak strategically employs the words "based on". Secondly, I lived in Kuwait when a Kuwaiti Muslim converted to Christianity, changed his name to Robert Qambar, and was declared an apostate by conservative Kuwaiti Muslim groups. He fled to the US despite assurances of government protection, but eventually came back with his Christian wife and reconverted to Islam. During the discussion sparked by the case, it was said in the Kuwaiti media that the apostasy law does not apply to people born of at least one non-Muslim parent. In that case, how would they apply to someone born of one ex-Muslim and one non-Muslim parent?

More importantly, the entire premise of Luttwak's article is based on what may be charitably called a false assumption, and less charitably called a lie. He says "that most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known". As my wife, an American Muslim, said when she heard this, "it's not like Muslims live in a hole". I think most Muslims already know that Obama is a Christian. Hundreds of millions of Muslims speak English, and can follow the debates and discussions surrounding the race for the American presidency in the original language. Non-English-language media worldwide are also discussing Obama. All the fellow-Muslims I've spoken to about Obama support him and wish him well, without exception. Each one knows that he is a Christian.

Luttwak attempts to paint "most citizens of the Islamic world" as ignorant, irrational bigots. I am encouraged by the dozens of comments his article has generated on the New York Times website, almost all of which say that his argument is ridiculous. The amount of goodwill that has already been generated for Obama in the Muslim world is very considerable. Islam stands for justice, fairness, dignity, truth and peace. These are values that Obama espouses as well. It is these values that Muslims, like anyone else, want to see in a presidential candidate, especially one who is running for the leadership of the most powerful country in the world. So if Obama wins the election and then acts on these values of his, I think the United States will find millions of new Muslim friends around the world.


Liam said...

Your post on this is very good. Luttwak's op-ed was bad for so many reasons and the Times shouldn't have published it.

Juan Cole wrote a pretty good post on this.

Rashed said...

Hi, Liam,

Thanks a lot for your comment, and for the link to Juan Cole's post.

BTW, I found your blog really interesting.

Hope to see you around!

Macrhino said...

I wanted to end your story about Robert Qambar. I also lived there when this happened. I was the CEO of KMSco. I went to my Kuwaiti owner and asked his opinion of this. He did not know the person but he told that "He just wants an American passport." After a number of Senators wrote to the Emir. The US allowed Mr. Qambar to have asylum. Two years later he was granted citizenship. Two months after than Hussein Qamabr Ali (his real name) came back to Kuwait professing that he had made a mistake and understood that Islam was the only religion and he was welcomed back with open arms as "evidence" of what happens when one converts.

But he had his passport.

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