NY Times Op-Ed: Obama is “President Apostate”

by Latoya Peterson

There is never a dull moment, is there?

I am already behind on posts for this week when reader Orientalista alerted us in the comments to the existence of this New York Times Op-Ed that argues that Obama is a Muslim.


Post-Reverend Wright.

Edward N. Luttwak, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes:

One danger of such charisma, however, is that it can evoke unrealistic hopes of what a candidate could actually accomplish in office regardless of his own personal abilities. Case in point is the oft-made claim that an Obama presidency would be welcomed by the Muslim world.

This idea often goes hand in hand with the altogether more plausible argument that Mr. Obama’s election would raise America’s esteem in Africa — indeed, he already arouses much enthusiasm in his father’s native Kenya and to a degree elsewhere on the continent.

But it is a mistake to conflate his African identity with his Muslim heritage. Senator Obama is half African by birth and Africans can understandably identify with him. In Islam, however, there is no such thing as a half-Muslim. Like all monotheistic religions, Islam is an exclusive faith.

As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother’s Christian background is irrelevant.

Of course, as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He chose to become a Christian, and indeed has written convincingly to explain how he arrived at his choice and how important his Christian faith is to him.

His conversion, however, was a crime in Muslim eyes; it is “irtidad” or “ridda,” usually translated from the Arabic as “apostasy,” but with connotations of rebellion and treason. Indeed, it is the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder (which the victim’s family may choose to forgive).

Allah, take the wheel!

Where do we even start on this one?

Let’s all take a quick moment to visit Aaminah’s post on What Makes a Muslim, and this post on Dunner’s. Five Pillars, Six Articles of Faith. Got it! Let’s move on.

Orientalista writes:

Obama just can’t win.

First he was criticized for being too “in” with the Muslims. He was accused of being one, of being indoctrinated at an Islamic madrassa in Indonesia, of expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, and for the endorsements of Hamas. While Obama has replied by shoring up his “I love Jesus” cred and declaring himself no less a friend of Israel than Clinton, the insinuations continue.

Now, an op-ed in the New York Times goes the other way: Obama would piss the shit out of Muslims. The author, Edward N. Luttwak of the conservative thinktank Center for Strategic and International Studies, begins by benignly praising Obama’s charisma and well-organized campaign – this so we know that what follows isn’t an attack on Obama, just fact.

Theoretically speaking, Luttwak posits, Muslims the world over would demand Obama’s blood, should he become president.

Here’s what Luttwak actually says in the Op-Ed:

With few exceptions, the jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools prescribe execution for all adults who leave the faith not under duress; the recommended punishment is beheading at the hands of a cleric, although in recent years there have been both stonings and hangings. (Some may point to cases in which lesser punishments were ordered — as with some Egyptian intellectuals who have been punished for writings that were construed as apostasy — but those were really instances of supposed heresy, not explicitly declared apostasy as in Senator Obama’s case.)

It is true that the criminal codes in most Muslim countries do not mandate execution for apostasy (although a law doing exactly that is pending before Iran’s Parliament and in two Malaysian states). But as a practical matter, in very few Islamic countries do the governments have sufficient authority to resist demands for the punishment of apostates at the hands of religious authorities.


Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama — not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law — another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, 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 it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

So I finished reading this craptastic article all prepared to write an angry diatribe…but, wait. The comments section of the NYT has done it for me!

Check these out:

One need only travel through the Middle East and talk to the people in local cafes and markets to understand that Barack Obama’s candidacy is in fact bringing hope and excitement to the Muslim world. I have been living and studying in Cairo, but have also traveled to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and the Palestinian territories. Without exception, when I reveal myself to be American I am met with enthusiastic cheers of, “Obama! Obama!”. It’s not about whether or not he is or was a Muslim, it’s about putting an end to George Bush’s foreign policy, which has wreaked havoc on this region. In the Middle East, people believe Barack Obama is the man for that job.

— Rafaela, Cairo

Edward N. Luttwak suggests that Barack Obama as president far from improving relations with Muslims might inflame them on the grounds that he was an apostate and thus even subject to execution. It’s good to try to know more about Islam, but soi-disant expertise of this sort may serve primarily to confirm two fundamental fallacies in American assumptions about Muslims. The first is that Islam is essentially a violent and irrational religion. The second is that Muslims’ attitudes to America are based on religious difference and not on American behavior in the world. Instead of focusing on apostasy, let’s try out the logic of another Islamic teaching, namely the saying of the Prophet that all humans are born Muslim (i.e. like all of nature attuned to God’s laws) anid t’s only their parents that turn them into Christians, Zoroastrians, etc. By that logic, Luttwak and Obama are approximately equally deviant.

— Barbara D. Metcalf, Professor of History, University of Michigan

I don’t know if what Mr. Luttwak says has any real bearing on Obama’s effectiveness in the Muslim world, but assassination attempts on this President are more likely to occur at home for the color of his skin than abroad for the sin of apostasy. The more familiar and disturbing threat remains local, I think.

Thanks to post 15. for bringing a more reasoned view. I think Luttwak misses the point. The U.S. is despised by most of the Muslim world not for the crime of apostasy but rather for the legacy of colonialism that has sought at every turn to diminish it. Mr Obama’s religious convictions, past or present, remain irrelevant.

BTW, the guy’s a Christian, of a sort that finds it’s political bearing in the experience of black America. That experience is not unlike the experience of Muslims under colonialism, a fact most Muslims understand and appreciate better than Mr. Luttwak.
— geraldmc, brooklyn

I’ve read the article with an increasing feeling of confusion. I am a Muslim woman from the “Islamic world”, and I have never ever heard Senator Obama referred to as a Muslim presidential candidate by anyone in the Middle East and other Islamic countries in Africa/South East Asia. I don’t understand where the idea that he’s viewed here as a Muslim candidate originated, and the writer conveniently forgets to inform us where he got this information from. Although the writer is an alleged researcher in a fairly respectable research think-tank, I have patiently read the article to it’s last sentence hoping to be suddenly enlightened about the crucial fact on which he bases his entire preposterous article, yet I was sadly disappointed. I understand it is an opinion piece, but I also know that when you state a fact and build an entire sequence of events based on that fact, you have to prove your fact and state it’s source. Yet, the article blithely rages on about a highly exaggerated, Orientalist-constructed “Islamic world” in which people devote their time to butchering their fellow citizens for renouncing their religion. Only two countries in the Arab world have laws to that effect – Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, it also slipped the writer’s mind to mention that while the U.S. is on a crusade to eliminate the Iranian regime (not because they kill apostates), it is a firm ally of Saudi Arabia – an authoritarian, anti-democratic, monarchical regime that has been married to the most fanatic brand of Islam for the last 250 years. Yet the Saudi regime flourishes because of it’s support from the world’s only super-power. The same super-power that invaded Iraq to “spread democracy and freedom”.

I would like to assure the writer and his readers that until his article, we have never viewed Mr. Obama as a Muslim, nor will we ever do, because he came out and said that his step-father, not his biological father, was the one who renounced Islam. If the writer had any credible knowledge of Islam, instead of the ignorant hype which he espouses, he would have known that Islam considers the child to belong to his biological father’s religion, and not to any other parent. This is why we don’t consider Mr. Obama as Muslim, but as an African-American Christian. Therefore, if he ever gets elected as president, he will never be in any jeopardy if he visits any Muslim country, 1.because most countries don’t kill American presidents (the only two American presidents – Lincoln & JFK – who were assassinated, met their sad fate by the hands of fellow-Americans, on American soil) and 2. most countries don’t kill Christian presidents either.

— Dina, Cairo, Egypt

Well, well. The majority of the comments to the NYT piece were in that vein. We may have a long way to go in terms of race relations and the acceptance of different perspectives in America, and the responses to one Op-Ed (or one potential presidency) will not change that fact.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say my little anti-racist grinch heart grew three sizes today.

(Picture Credit: George Bates for the New York Times)

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