Sunday, June 29, 2008

Barack Obama and the Distortive Polemicist, Daniel Pipes

In my research on Barack Obama, I came across an article written in late April by Daniel Pipes, a "scholar of Islam" who has been embraced by all too many people in the Jewish community who cannot tell the difference between a reliable source and a deceitful polemicist who engages in fearmongering. The article appears in on the Jewish World Review website. Perhaps my deconstruction of this article will prove once and for all that Pipes is not a man any of us should take seriously or use as a source and that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. Pipes' screed is a breathtakingly transparent and brazen example of his fundamental dishonesty, because all one need do is click on the links he himself includes to see just how misleading he is.

The article is entitled "Barack Obama's Muslim Childhood", though nowhere in the article, which is one-hundred percent innuendo, does Mr. Pipes ever actually prove or even bring evidence that Obama had a "Muslim childhood." I start with the second paragraph, first sentence. Pipes is in red. The extended quotes I have included from his sources are in blue.

Obama asserted in December, "I've always been a Christian," and he has adamantly denied ever having been a Muslim. "The only connection I've had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father's side came from that country [Kenya]. But I've never practiced Islam."

The source for this sentence is an MSNBC web article covering a campaign-stop conversation Obama had with a group of women over pumpkin pie. His basis for claiming that he had always been a Christian was sound; his mother is Christian, he was raised by his mother, and the only religion he has ever practiced was Christianity. His "adamant denial" (Pipes' words) consists of an assertion that he had never practiced Islam. He supports this assertion first by telling the women that his father, who was not involved in his upbringing, was not actually a practicing Muslim, and that during the time he lived in Indonesia, a Muslim country, he himself did not actually practice Islam.

In February, he claimed: "I have never been a Muslim. … other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for 4 years when I was a child [Indonesia, 1967-71] I have very little connection to the Islamic religion.

Pipes' source for this quote is the rough transcript of a closed-door meeting Obama held with Jewish leaders in Cleveland. Of course, no self-respecting writer or journalist would quote from a source like this, but the quote as excerpted by Pipes omits that which Obama said which is hurtful to Pipes' case. Here's Obama's entire quote (which is broken up and contains misspelling because it's a rough transcript from a blog):

If anyone is still puzzled about the facts, in fact I have never been a Muslim. We had to send CNN to look at the school that I attended in Indonesia where kids were wearing short pants and listening to ipods to indicate that this was not a madrassa but was a secular school in Indonesia. Where I attended for two year prior to coming back to Hawaii. If you look at Nicholas Kristof’s article today it gives you an indication of where I got my name. My grandfather who was Kenyan converted to Christianity then converted to Islam, my father never practiced he was basically agnostic and so other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for 4 years when I was a child I have very little connection to the Islamic religion.
Seems a little more than a simple assertion when Obama mentions that CNN (as have many others) investigated the so-called Islamic school in Indonesia Obama attended as a young child and found that it was in fact a secular school for wealthy middle and upper-class students of several faiths. It's easy to make an argument when you ignore the facts presented by your opponent.

In the next paragraph, Pipes states his thesis:
"Always" and "never" leave little room for equivocation. But many biographical facts, culled mainly from the American press, suggest that, when growing up, the Democratic candidate for president both saw himself and was seen as a Muslim.
As we'll find out, none of the article Pipes culls support this view.

Pipes begins his list:

Obama's Kenyan birth father: In Islam, religion passes from the father to the child. Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. (1936-1982) was a Muslim who named his boy Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. Only Muslim children are named "Hussein".
The first sentence is, of course, a true statement. It would also be true to say that Barack Obama was Jewish if his mother had been Jewish, because in Judaism, religion passes from the mother to the child. But if Barack's Jewish mother had abandoned the family when Barack was a year old, and he was raised by his Christian father, and attended Church every Sunday, would it be fair to say that Barack was Jewish in the context of proving the he was distorting his background by claiming that he was not, and never was, a practicing Jew? It would, of course, be a complete distortion.

The second sentence is indefensible, because Pipes cannot prove that no non-Muslim child is named Hussein. Pipes is simply suggesting here that the fact Obama has the middle name Hussein is proof of his Muslim identity. But let's give Pipes the benefit of the doubt and assume that what he really meant to say is that Hussein is a Muslim name and that it is uncommon for non-Muslims to have it. I think Barack "Barry" Obama agrees. That's why Obama, a Christian, doesn't (and never did) use his given middle name. Those who do insist on using it have only one reason for doing so: Playing on the public's post-9/11 fear of Muslims by suggesting that Obama is a Muslim, because as Pipes says, only Muslims are called Hussein.

Next assertion:
Obama's Indonesian family: His stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was also a Muslim. In fact, as Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng explained to Jodi Kantor of the New York Times: "My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim."
The quotes are, once again, highly selective and highly misleading. Here is the entire paragraph in which Ms. Soetoro-Ng's quote appears, along with the sentence that precedes it:

His mother’s tutelage took place mostly in Indonesia, in the household of Mr. Obama’s stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, a nominal Muslim who hung prayer beads over his bed but enjoyed bacon, which Islam forbids.

“My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim,” said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s younger half sister. But Mr. Obama attended a Catholic school and then a Muslim public school where the religious education was cursory. When he was 10, he returned to his birthplace of Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attended a preparatory school with a Christian affiliation but little religious instruction.

So, in fact, we learn that Lolo Soetoro was a "nominal Muslim" who was peckish for pig, and that Obama actually attended first a Catholic school and then a Muslim public school where religious education was cursory. That's the elite secular one we learned about above. And as far as the "whole family being Muslim", it's certainly a fair description of Mr. Soetoro's family because Mr. Soetoro was a Muslim, albeit a nominal one who ate haram.

Pipes offers a second assertion to support his point about Obama's Indonesian family:

An Indonesian publication, the Banjarmasin Post reports a former classmate, Rony Amir, recalling that "All the relatives of Barry's father were very devout Muslims."

Three questions should be asked by any inquiring mind who wishes to hold this assertion up to scrutiny: What does it mean? Who is Rony Amir? Are there others who knew Obama in Indonesia who say the same? And what is the Banjarmasin Post?

Let's take the last part first. The Banjarmasin Post is an Indonesian daily newspaper in Banjarmasin. It's in Indonesian. So anyone who wants to read the article must run it through a translator. If you do that, you'll find that the article basically says this: I played with Barry when he was little kid in Indonesia. (Nowhere does Rony Amir refer to the middle name "Hussein", by the way.) His family was Muslim. He was a lot of fun as a kid, he's a great guy now, and we're all proud of him.

Is Rony Amir considered an authority on Barack Obama? Apparently not, because a Google search of his name shows that Mr. Pipes is the only one to have quoted him, and all other cites on the internet are derivative quotes of Pipes' article.

Most importantly: Do others who knew Barack Obama during his time in Indonesia support Amir's view? As we'll see in the sources for Mr. Pipes' next bullet point, the answer is no.

Mr. Pipes next suggests that Mr. Obama's Catholic school attendance is not dispositive of his non-Muslimness:

The Catholic school: Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press reports that "documents showed he enrolled as a Muslim" while at a Catholic school during first through third grades. Kim Barker of the Chicago Tribune confirms that Obama was "listed as a Muslim on the registration form for the Catholic school." A blogger who goes by "An American Expat in Southeast Asia" found that "Barack Hussein Obama was registered under the name 'Barry Soetoro' serial number 203 and entered the Franciscan Asisi Primary School on 1 January 1968 and sat in class 1B. … Barry's religion was listed as Islam."

Documents listed Obama as a Muslim when he attended Catholic school. He must have been a Muslim, then, right? Apparently not, accord to that very same Chicago Tribune article quoted by Pipes, which is actually entitled, "History of Schooling Distorted." As the very same Kim Barker reports, during the three years Obama attended Catholic School in Indonesia, "he prayed as a Catholic." So then why is he listed as a Muslim on the school's registration forms?

At the time, the school most likely registered children based on the religion of their fathers, said Darmawan, Obama's former teacher. Because Soetoro was a Muslim, Obama was listed as a Muslim, she said.

The enrollment form from the Catholic school, which has been cited as evidence that Obama was a Muslim in Indonesia, also was rife with errors. It listed Obama as an Indonesian, listed his previous school incorrectly and failed to list his mother, Ann, at all.
So Daniel Pipes' Catholic school proof that Obama was a Muslim while in Indonesia consists of an enrollment form that also lists Obama as Indonesian, lists his previous school incorrectly, and omits the name of his mother entirely. Obama former teacher, a reliable source on matter of enrollment, offer a perfectly plausible explanation: Since the school registered children according to the religion of the father, Obama's religion was listed as Muslim.

And what of the claim that Obama was a Muslim according to Rony Amir? Is it shared by others who knew Obama at that time? Barker informs us of her journalistic work:

Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia, despite being listed as a Muslim on the registration form for the Catholic school, Strada Asisia, where he attended 1st through 3rd grades.

Hmm, interviews with dozens of classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends versus some guy name Rony Amir. I'll take the dozens of classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends as my source.


The public school: Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times learned from Indonesians familiar with Obama when he lived in Jakarta that he "was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended." Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star visited the Jakarta public school Obama attended and found that "Three of his teachers have said he was enrolled as a Muslim." Although Siddiqui cautions that "With the school records missing, eaten by bugs, one has to rely on people's shifting memories," he cites only one retired teacher, Tine Hahiyari, retracting her earlier certainty about Obama's being registered as a Muslim.

Still with the registration. Pipes is so hung up on the registration that he actually misses evidence that helps his case in the LA Times article, which quotes Obama's first grade teacher as claiming that Obama prayed in the Catholic way but was also a Muslim, whatever that meant for a first-grader, and however someone can p.

Next up:

Koran class: In his autobiography, Dreams of My Father, Obama relates how he got into trouble for making faces during Koranic studies, thereby revealing he was a Muslim, for Indonesian students in his day attended religious classes according to their faith. Indeed, Obama still retains knowledge from that class: Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times, reports that Obama "recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them [to Kristof] with a first-rate accent."

So everyone who studies the Koran is a Muslim, right? I assume Daniel Pipes and others who have quoted the Koran in their articles have studied it to some extent. That must make them Muslims too. Except that it turns out that Obama was placed in Koran class because of his faith, which, you guessed it, came from his registration card. And apparently, he actually learned the Adhan while in Indonesia and can still recite it today. The Adhan is something he would have heard over a loudspeaker five times a day living in a Muslim neighborhood.

He'd have to have a pretty bad memory not to remember something he heard five times a day for four years.

Pipes draws on some of his past sources to make his next bullet point:

Mosque attendance: Obama's half-sister recalled that the family attended the mosque "for big communal events." Watson learned from childhood friends that "Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque." Barker found that "Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers." One Indonesia friend, Zulfin Adi, states that Obama "was Muslim. He went to the mosque. I remember him wearing a sarong" (a garment associated with Muslims).

It's back to the selective quoting again. It is hardly a surprise that the Soetoro family would attend the local mosque in a Muslim country for communal events. But did they attend regularly for prayer?

Here's what the LA Times article actually said:

Obama's younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only "for big communal events," not every Friday. (emphasis mine)

Sound like another distortion. Indeed, the article quotes Maya Soetoro-Ng more pointedly later on:

In her statement, Obama's sister, who was born after the family moved to Indonesia, said: "My father saw Islam as a way to connect with the community. He never went to prayer services except for big communal events. I am absolutely certain that my father did not go to services every Friday. He was not religious."

Pipes only bothers to quote the part about the communal events and of course, makes it seem as though he has proved that Obama attended the mosque when no one had denied that kind ofattendance in the first place. In fact, Obama said that he sometimes attended the local mosque for community events. This decontextualization serves to obfuscate the truth. Pipes claims that Obama occasionally went with his father to the mosque. That would be pretty typical for a young child whose father went to the mosque for the occasional big communal event.

What about that friend, Zulfin Adi? Well, it turns out that he's quoted in both the LA Times article and the Chicago Tribune article. Pipes cites from the LA Times article, which appeared on March 16, 2007. Barker's appeared a few days later, on March 25, 2007, and by then Adi was already a suspect source. From the Chicago Tribune article:

Zulfan Adi, a former neighborhood playmate of Obama's who has been cited in news reports as saying Obama regularly attended Friday prayers with Soetoro, told the Tribune he was not certain about that when pressed about his recollections. He only knew Obama for a few months, during 1970, when his family moved to the neighborhood.
Hmm, Barack Obama's sister, who was part of the family versus Zulfan Adi, a guy who is not certain what he remembers and only knew Obama for a few months. I'll take the sister. Pipes distorts what the sister says, quotes Adi, and neglects to tell us that Adi is not a reliable source.

Finally, having failed to prove anything, Pipes sinks even lower:

Piety: Obama himself says that while living in Indonesia, a Muslim country, he "didn't practice [Islam]," implicitly acknowledging a Muslim identity. Indonesians differ in their memories of him. One, Rony Amir, describes Obama as "previously quite religious in Islam."
Once again, Pipes is fundamentally and willfully dishonest. Having failed to prove that Obama was ever a Muslim or a practicing one, he suggests that Obama acknowledges that he had a "Muslim identity" by - get this - using Obama's denial that he ever practiced. Then he claims that Indonesians differ in their memories of Obama's religiosity by citing Rony Amir, that old friend who wrote for the Banjarmasin Post. I guess if one considers Amir's opinion against the
"dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends" who say that "Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia," one could consider it a difference of opinion.

Pipes concludes with no apparent sense of irony:

Obama's having been born and raised a Muslim and having left the faith to become a Christian make him neither more nor less qualified to become president of the United States. But if he was born and raised a Muslim and is now hiding that fact, this points to a major deceit, a fundamental misrepresentation about himself that has profound implications about his character and his suitability as president.

Indeed, let us trumpet the first sentence of this concluding paragraph from the hilltops. Let us also remember the (completely unsuccessful) lengths Daniel Pipes has gone through to suggest that from the ages of 6 to 10, Barack Obama was a Muslim. And let us do exactly what Pipes suggests we do to Obama to Pipes himself - hold him accountable for his major deceits and fundamental misrepresentations and make the appropriate conclusions about his character and his suitability to be any kind of source of information for our community or for anyone else's.

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At 9:29 AM, Blogger gazasolidarity said...

According to respected international lawyer Franklin Lamb a recent CIA report gives the Israeli state 20 years before it collapses. Apparently members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee have seen the report which argues that a two-state solution is no longer realistic and that a one-state solution is the only viable democratic option. It predicts:

"an inexorable movement away from a two-state to a one-state solution, as the most viable model based on democratic principles of full equality that sheds the looming specter of colonial Apartheid while allowing for the return of the 1947/1948 and 1967 refugees. The latter being the precondition for sustainable peace in the region."

According to Lamb the CIA refers to the rapid and unexpected downfall of Apartheid South Africa (unexpected by the CIA that is which was of course a supporter of the racist regime, with the US government refusing to support sanctions, along with Thatcher's Britain) and of the Soviet Union.


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