Misleading Letter Campaign Targets Obama in CenLa
Even though the story was thoroughly discredited over a year ago, the mainstream media has continued to suggest (and to allow others to make the suggestion) that Senator Barack Obama is actually, secretly a Muslim. Gasp!
I bring this up for a reason: Despite the thorough debunking of this story and despite Barack Obama’s own unequivocal statements, the media continues to give the story room at the table of public discourse.
The good folks at The Town Talk have published numerous letters framed around this debunked story. Today, they published another one. Although The Town Talk serves Central Louisiana and is the official paper of record for the City of Alexandria, they published a letter from a “reader” named Harold Blackburn in Alabama. Incidentally, this letter was also printed today in an Alabama newspaper. No doubt, he was going for broke and sent the letter to every newspaper he could. And today, his words reached an audience in Central Louisiana. He writes:
During the present presidential campaign, criticism has been leveled against certain candidates concerning their faith. A case in point is Mike Huckabee, a Baptist. There is fear that his religious connections will unduly hinder him from making proper decisions. Another case is Mitt Romney, a Mormon. Some believe his denomination is not main-line Christian and that Salt Lake City would exert undue pressure on his decisions. This brings to mind Barack Obama, brought up in a Muslim home and presently a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ, a church which permits only black members. Facts concerning Obama’s beliefs are revealed in the church’s Web page www.tucc.org/about.htm. During his appearance on Oprah’s program, Obama indicated his membership in the aforementioned church, which according to the Web site has “a non-negotiable commitment to Africa.” It is difficult to realize that the above facts have not been dealt with during this presidential campaign. In my initial statement it is evident that I have no qualms concerning a black candidate, but a Muslim dedicated to Black Africa is quite troubling indeed.
I’m not sure what value this letter possesses for the people of Central Louisiana. It relies on blatant lies in an attempt to incite religious and racial divisiveness. It plays to ignorant fear– and ignorance in general.
And the church claim: Completely false.
Believe it or not, Barack Obama is an African-American who attends a church with other African-Americans. And believe it or not, this church preaches a message of personal and collective responsibility and empowerment. For some people, it appears, just the idea of a group of African-Americans speaking about empowerment is somehow radical.
It is a ridiculous lie that Trinity United Church of Christ “permits only black members.” Here’s a paper written by a white man who attended the church with his wife.
And anyone who believes that African aid isn’t a great moral responsibility is living in a cave. There is a reason the issue is of particular importance to African-Americans, and it should be important to all Americans. Tonight, the AP published this story about how the death toll in Kenya is approaching 800 people in one month.
Most people don’t understand the nuances of Liberation Theology. I didn’t learn about it until I was well into my degree in Religious Studies. It’s a complicated discourse, to be sure, but it’s completely disingenuous to read a statement of commitment to Africa as a subversive or treasonous gesture; this commitment is profoundly Christian.
Regarding the allegations of attending a Muslim elementary school, Senator Obama explained in January:
In the past week, many of you have read a now thoroughly-debunked story by Insight Magazine, owned by the Washington Times, which cites unnamed sources close to a political campaign that claim Senator Obama was enrolled for “at least four years” in an Indonesian “Madrassa”. The article says the “sources” believe the Madrassa was “espousing Wahhabism,” a form of radical Islam.
In other words, a couple of opposition researchers for someone else’s political campaign lied to reporters about Obama’s schooling, and the reporters didn’t both to do any fact-checking before publishing the story in a magazine and broadcasting it on Fox News. Obama continues:
Insight Magazine published these allegations without a single named source, and without doing any independent reporting to confirm or deny the allegations. Fox News quickly parroted the charges, and Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy went so far as to ask, “Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised — spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father — as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?”
All of the claims about Senator Obama raised in the Insight Magazine piece were thoroughly debunked by CNN, which, instead of relying on unnamed sources, sent a reporter to Obama’s former school in Jakarta to check the facts.
If Doocy or the staff at Fox and Friends had taken the time to check their facts, or simply made a call to his office, they would have learned that Senator Obama was not educated in a Madrassa, was not raised as a Muslim, and was not raised by his father – an atheist Obama met once in his life before he died.
Later in the day, Fox News host John Gibson again discussed the Insight Magazine story without any attempt to independently confirm the charges.
All of the claims about Senator Obama’s faith and education raised in the Insight Magazine story and repeated on Fox News are false. Senator Obama was raised in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother. Obama’s stepfather worked for a U.S. oil company, and sent his stepson to two years of Catholic school, as well as two years of public school. As Obama described it, “Without the money to go to the international school that most expatriate children attended, I went to local Indonesian schools and ran the streets with the children of farmers, servants, tailors, and clerks.” [The Audacity of Hope, p. 274]
To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa.
These malicious, irresponsible charges are precisely the kind of politics the American people have grown tired of, and that Senator Obama is trying to change by focusing on bringing people together to solve our common problems.
Below please find facts and citations rebutting the claims in the Insight Magazine story to help inform your editorial discussions about this issue. Attached also please find a letter from an ecumenical coalition of religious leaders denouncing this brand of negative politics. Download file
CNN Reporter: I’ve Been to Madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Obama’s Indonesian Elementary School Is Nothing Like That. On January 22, CNN Reporter John Vause reported, “I came here to Barack Obama’s elementary school in Jakarta, looking for what some are calling an Islamic Madrassa, like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.. I’ve been to those Madrassas in Pakistan and Wolf, this school is nothing like that.” [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
CNN: Former Students Said It Was A Mixed Public School That Did Not Focus On Religion. CNN’s Vause reported, “There are religion classes once a week – most of the 450 students are Muslim, and are taught about Islam…the handful who are Christians, learn that Jesus is the Son of God. The deputy headmaster tells me he’s unaware that his school has been labeled an Islamic Madrassa by some in United States, and bristles at the thought.” Hardi Priyono, the school’s Deputy Headmaster, said, “This is a public school we don’t focus on religion…In our daily lives, we try to respect religion but we don’t give preferential treatment to.” Bandung Winadijanto, a classmate of Obama’s, said, “It’s not Islamic School, it’s general, there is a lot of Christian, Buddhist also Confucian . . . so that’s a mixed school.” [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
Indonesian Embassy: Besuki School Attended by Barack Obama “Has Never Been an Islamic Madrasah Type of School.” In an informal communication, the Indonesian Embassy stated that “Sekolah Dasar Negeri 04 Besuki in Menteng, Jakarta, Indonesia has always been a public school. It has never been an Islamic madrasah type of school.” [Email From Indonesian Embassy, 1/19/07]
CNN Reporter: Obama’s School Taught A National Curriculum of Science and Math, Students Were “Neatly Dressed In Uniform,” and Teachers Wore Western Style Dress. In front of boys and girls playing in the quad of the school, Vause reported, “In the quadrangle of this elementary school – boys and girls, aged from 6 to 12, neatly dressed in uniform – playing together, just as a young Barack Obama would have done almost 40 years ago.” In front of a science class, “Here they’re taught science and maths.” Vause said, the school, “‘Besuki’ elementary follows a national curriculum, just like it did in the sixties and seventies…take a close look at Obama’s teachers, women and men, all in western style dress.” [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
CNN Reporter: Obama’s School Was One of the Wealthiest In Jakarta, Down the Road From the US Ambassador. CNN reporter Vause said, “Basuki is typical of almost all Indonesian public schools – except this is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Jakarta, the US Ambassador lives up the road…and this school is probably better off than most.” [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
Time’s Joe Klein: Attacks On Obama’s Elementary School Are “Laughable” Given the Moderate Form of Islam Practiced in Indonesia, Especially in Those Days.” Time’s Joe Klein wrote, “The effort to slime Barack Obama has begun in the slimiest possible way.” Describing attacks on Obama’s elementary school, Klein wrote, “Now, this is nonsense of course. Obama’s stepfather was not a Muslim extremist (among other things, he worked for Shell Oil). Obama attended public school for two years in Indonesia, in addition to the two years he spent in catholic schools–although, as Obama’s staff points out, Indonesia is a Muslim country, so the public schools undoubtedly reflect the dominant relgious culture. The notion that the Obama’s school was a Wahabi madrasa is laughable, given the moderate form of Islam practiced in Indonesia, especially in those days.” [Time Blog, 1/22/07 , http://time-blog.com/swampland/2007/01/disgusting.html%5D
Main Radical Islamic Movement in Indonesia Crushed in 1962; Obama Attended School There Beginning in 1967. Indonesia’s indigenous radical Islamic movement, Darul Islam, was crushed in 1962 by Soeharto’s army and because they “failed to gain support from mainstream Muslims.” The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims remain tolerant and inclusive, as they have been traditionally described.” Barack Obama attended school in Indonesia beginning in 1967. [US-INDO Conference, 2/7/02 ; "Dreams from My Father," 1995]
Militant Madrassas Linked to Taliban Did Not Emerge Until Late 1970s, Early 1980s. Madrasah is the term used to describe an Islamic religious school. However, the type of madrasahs linked to the Taliban did not emerge until the Afghan war against the Soviets. During that war (1979-1989), a new kind of madrasah emerged in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region — not so much concerned about scholarship as making war on infidels, and financed by Saudi wealth. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/01 ]
Indonesian Islam is “Tolerant, Inclusive, [and] Compatible With Democracy.” “Azyumardi Azra, Director of the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN), said it is ‘simplistic’ to think of Indonesian Islam as the same as Islam in the Middle East. Because of its slow, peaceful penetration over centuries, accommodating to and integrating with local beliefs and customs. The conventional wisdom of Indonesian Islam as tolerant, inclusive and inherently compatible with democracy is valid.” [US-INDO Conference, 2/7/02 ]