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March 07, 2007

Playing the Muslim Card to the White House
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It looks like Obama is finally beginning to realize that his Muslim background is - or at least can be - an asset on the campaign trail. Here's hoping he'll keep on making points like this:

And although my stepfather wasn’t a practicing Muslim either, you know, I obviously was immersed in the culture that, you know, in which Islam played a role. I think it does make a difference. I think it makes people feel that I am less likely to engage in stereotypes and that I’m less likely to respond out of fear toward the Muslim world. That I’m willing and able to listen. And most importantly, I think, in our foreign policy, that I’m dealing with people on the basis of mutual dignity and respect. . . . one of the biggest problems with the Bush administration’s . . . foreign policy is a general dismissiveness, a sense that we will do what we please and we expect the world to align itself with whatever decisions that we make.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias provides a note of caution about politicians who've spend a lot of time in Indonesia:

"[Obama] once got in trouble for making faces during Koran study classes in his elementary school,' writes Kristof, "but a president is less likely to stereotype Muslims as fanatics -- and more likely to be aware of their nationalism -- if he once studied the Koran with them." One would certainly hope so. On the other hand, the last major American political figure to be knowledgable about Indonesia was . . . Paul Wolfowitz.

I tend to think that Wolfowitz gets a bit too much of a bad rap from liberals. Still, I'd venture to say that Wolfowitz would be a lot worse if it wasn't for the time he spent in Indonesia. Unlike some other neo-cons, I've always sensed a genuine empathy for Arabs on the part of Wolfowitz, an empathy which clearly drove his advocacy for the Iraq war. And, wait, isn't Wolfowitz dating a Tunisian woman?


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Despite Paul Wolfowitz's unfortunate later career in government he was evidently a very good ambassador in Indonesia, a demanding assignment. I would have hoped that his experience there would inoculate him against identifying "Muslim" causes with merely "Arab" ones. But Sen. Obama is a different individual, and certainly has the opportunity to follow a different path.

I tend to think that Wolfowitz gets a bit too much of a bad rap from liberals.

On the contrary, I think he gets a pass from most liberals. They have a soft spot for him because he had the courage to go to a "pro-Israel" rally and say we need to acknowledge the Palestinians' suffering. (I admired him for this as well.)

What's often forgotten is that he prevented the Inspector General from investigating corruption at the CPA. Now the CPA can't account for $9 billion.

And his well publicized concern for promoting democracy has been overrated as well. He was upset that the Turkish military didn't step in and tell the gov't to let our troops through.

"Wolfowitz is one of the best representatives of the classic neo-conservative, Reagan Republicans. He believes very strongly that power can be used very effectively to create more power."

-- David Wurmser

Though I think very highly of Barack Obama - at least more than I do of any other presidential candidate - I get spooked thinking about the reaction his "playing the Muslim card," as you put it, would have in the Islamic world. Obama's murky religious heritage (religious, not ethnic, heritage) might very well make him an APOSTATE in the eyes of many Muslims. If he mishandles this hot-potato of an issue, Obama, were he to become president, might very well become (almost overnight!) as hated in the Islamic world as George W. Bush is NOW. In the eyes of traditional Islamic law - in the four main sunni schools of Islamic law (Hanafi, Shafii, Hanbali, and Maliki) and in Shia and many Sufi traditions - Obama comes dangerously close to being an apostate. In Islamic law, apostasy carries the DEATH penalty - its probably the most taboo thing anyone in a Muslim society can possibly do. In Dreams from my Father, Obama, when he is asked if he was a Muslim by a barber, replied "Grandfather was." Obama's father, who became an atheist, fully fits the definition of apostate, then. Furthermore, his stepfather during his early childhood was an Indonesian Muslim, he was categorized as a Muslim at his (excellent) Indonesian elementary school, and studied Islam when the students were divied up according to their religions for their respective Sunday-school style classes (where he may or may not - I've heard a few different takes on the news - have prayed as a Muslim does). Islam (and this is a big generalization, but generally true, as good generalizations are) usually emphasizes man's free will in theological matters, and some Muslims might very well consider Obama old enough (he was 7 or so, I believe) to be responsible for his own religious observance. That would make him an apostate, and under Islamic law, he would be invited to rejoin the Muslim fold and, if he refused, would be put to death. This is a show-stopping issue - and Obama, who is now by all accounts a sincere, devoted Christian, must effectively handle this situation or it could do irreperabe damage our relations with the Muslim world. That would be a catastrophe for Obama, for America, and for the world.

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