Monday, June 16, 2008

Hugh Fitzgerald on Barry

There are few thinkers I admire as much as I do Hugh so when he weighs in on our Barry problem, I pay attention.

Fitzgerald: Obama's strategy

Obama's strategy has been to play all of his cards very close to his chest -- not letting his advisers in on quite everything -- and in playing for time. He must have known that eventually the business about Rev. Wright would come out. And come out it did, but only after most of the Democratic primaries were over -- that is, after they could do real damage. And he did not do as well after those revelations as he had before, so his gamble paid off.

It is the same with the mysterious presentation of, or failure to come clean about, Islam in the life of Barack Obama.

He might have said: “Look, I was the son of a man who had himself converted to Islam. That man left my mother when I was two, and had no part in raising me. My mother married (or remarried) another man, this one an Indonesian Muslim, and as a child I lived in Indonesia, and was regarded by the outside world as a Muslim child. I hardly knew what that meant, and it is silly to attribute to me a knowledge of what that might mean, or indeed, a knowledge of the texts and tenets of Islam.

“Yes, I was registered on the books of a Christian-run school, open to all, as a Muslim. Yes, I did attend a Koran class, where I remember only that I made faces to keep alert. And that's about it. As an adult, I have always been a Christian. I regard the Christian message as the right one, or the right one for me. I find it extraordinary that anyone would attempt to attribute to me views I do not have, and views that I doubt I could be said to have had at the age of six, or eight, or ten."

Yes, he could long ago have come clean, just as he could long ago have come clean about Rev. Wright and the theology of Black Liberation, and attempted to distance himself long before he was forced to because others had a tape of Wright and his political opponents were making hay while the sun shines -- and continue, quite rightly, to do so.

Barack Obama and his advisers seem not to realize how potentially troublesome that Muslim background may be. It can mislead Muslims as to where he stands, so that there is overconfidence and miscalculation on their part, based on the notion of their having a "secret friend" and perhaps even co-religionist in the White House. It can also mislead non-Muslim leaders who may be wary of sharing with Obama their apprehensions about, for example, the growing Muslim threat in Europe, and the desirability of a coordinated trans-Atlantic alliance directed at limiting that Muslim threat and depriving Muslims of the weapons they now use to further Jihad: the Money Weapon, and campaigns of Da'wa, and demographic conquest. They might be wary, that is, of sharing those worries and making plans in cooperation with a supposed Leader of the Western World whose true sympathies are not at all clear.

Obama is opposed to the war in Iraq, but his opposition does not appear to be of the right kind. After all, Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill were also early opponents of the war, and their worldview is a dangerous one. It is clear that Obama has some kind of notion -- he's a sentimentalist like McCain -- that his very being the son of a Kenyan father, and his childhood years spent outside the United States, somehow make him particularly sensitive to, and particularly attractive to, others who would otherwise be unsympathetic to America. It's the kind of thing that puts one in mind of the teacher who choose books for students to read not on the basis of literary merit, but solely on the basis of the racial, ethnic, religious, or other background of the writers.

Barack Obama may be fascinated by his own heritage, and may have all sorts of racial or postracial or transracial considerations that may begin to fascinate others, but at this point, the most important foreign policy question is how to rescue Western Europe, the historic West, from growing and seemingly inexorable islamization. Can someone who looks to Kenya for a genetic memory that he has made much of, and to a few years as a child in Indonesia for what is essentially merely a variant on the sinclair-lewis babbittish "travel-is-so-broadening" idea, be expected to feel keenly what is happening to France, Italy, Great Britain, and all the other countries under assault, and where a new kind of transatlantic alliance is necessary, is indispensable? Will Barack Obama, with his declared interests, background, and affinities, feel this need as keenly as he should, as he must?

Barack Obama's "apostasy" is not the problem. His campaign has stated that he never considered himself to be a Muslim. Those who keep harping on the notion that he was once a Muslim at or around the age of ten, and that he must admit to this, are setting themselves up for ridicule. What is worrisome is not that he was once a Muslim, or still more absurdly, considered to be a "secret Muslim," but that he is ignorant of Islam. He has not made any effort to investigate it, and may be sentimental about it, based on personal history: his desire to identify with his absentee Kenyan father, the fact that his mother's second husband was also a Muslim; his childhood experience in Indonesia, which may make him think he knows something about Islam but was as idiosyncratic and unrepresentative an experience of Islam -- as was that "experience of Islam" that a much older, but not wiser, Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz had when he was the American ambassador in Indonesia. Like Obama, Wolfowitz did not understand what Islam was about, and took his experience there -- with everyone trying to woo and win him ("yes, we really hope to establish diplomatic relations with Israel") -- as normative. This naiveté about Islam was not undone, but was reinforced, by Wolfowitz’s Arab girlfriend. No doubt she is a lady with all the right intentions, but as she was herself a would-be reformer or tamer of Islam, in that very role she offered false hopes, and misrepresented the meaning, and menace, of Islam.

The problem with Barack Obama's supposed Muslim connection is that he has not shown any inclination to ponder the nature of Islam at its essence, and not in the modified unrepresentative form in which he may have, fleetingly and personally, encountered it. And a greater problem is a lack of historical knowledge, and a naiveté (without the viciousness) about the world that rivals that of Jimmy Carter, and a trust in such obviously disturbing "advisers" as the vicious, and naively realpolitiking, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

There's plenty to worry about with Barack Obama and his more-than-sufficient display, so far, of all the wrong foreign-policy instincts, including his dreamy belief that meeting and talking with representatives of Iran would do some good. Some say, what could be the harm in merely meeting and talking? The harm could be great. It would justify, it would dignify, it would give a boost in the minds of its own disaffected subjects, to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It would encoil us in useless, protracted discussions with those who are past masters at deception and deliberate delay, and who treat such meetings not as occasions for the exchange of views that we are expected to believe have not already, and repeatedly, been exchanged, but rather as instruments of war: the propaganda war that Muslims engage in, and we, alas, do not.

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