About That Late, Lamented Media Critique: Pt. 2: The Luttwak Edition
How on earth did this Op Ed get published? That is what I want to know.
Here is Edward Luttwak, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member in good standing of the Washington foreign policy establishment, all dues paid up, (which probably answers my opening question), speculating in this morning's New York Times about the security implications of an Obama presidency, for Obama himself and for the country, unembarrassed to tell us that Obama's conversion to Christianity makes him ripe for punishment by beheading, no less, or at best, by stoning or by hanging.
No, I'm not kidding:
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.
For example, in Iran in 1994 the intervention of Pope John Paul II and others won a Christian convert a last-minute reprieve, but the man was abducted and killed shortly after his release. Likewise, in 2006 in Afghanistan, a Christian convert had to be declared insane to prevent his execution, and he was still forced to flee to Italy.
Think about those three paragraphs. Luttwak is talking about a potential Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States. Aside from being bizarre, could it be a more lurid speculation?
Gee, and here I'd been told by Senator McCain that Obama had been endorsed by Hamas, not that Luttwak is responsible for anything he doesn't say himself.
Luttwak isn't imagining that any particular Muslim country might be able to get its hands on an apostate President Obama, but look at his loony approach to what kind of security issues might be involved in protecting such a resident.
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.
Wait! Before you wipe that sweat from your brow, get a load of this, and we use the word "load" advisedly:
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.
Note that I didn't tag this with any right-wing categories, although Luttwak has exhibited decided right-wing leanings in the past, but he also has a maverick reputation, (not the equal of McCain's, of course), which he has occasionally justified. But here we have a sophisticated sample of what the right and Republicans have in store for presidential candidate Obama. Makes that big, bad do-anything-to-win Clinton campaign look like a bunch of dry pussies, doesn’t it?
We've already seen cruder versions of what is essentially an attempt to rerun Bush-pere’s campaign against Michael Dukakis against Obama, to paint him as vaguely exotic in ways that aren't quite American, urban, academic, intellectual, ethnic, liberal, a card-carrying ACLU member, whose political beliefs place him outside the American mainstream. It was crude then, and is stil crude, but it worked. And Luttwak has a masters' touch.
He never claims that Obama has ever been a Muslim, only that he will be so regarded in the Muslim world because Obama was born to a Muslim father.
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).
Luttwak's stated purpose in the piece is to disabuse Americans of any hope that an Obama presidency will improve America's relations with Islamic countries. Yes, Obama is popular in Africa, but Luttwak warns us, "...it is a mistake to conflate his African identity with his Muslim heritage." Notice how skillfully inserted is the notion that Obama has a "Muslim" heritage, separate from his "African" identity?
Why should we consider Obama's ties with Africa through the figure of his father, as an "identity?" Doesn't it make more sense to consider it a heritage? Well, we all recognize that Obama has a fairly direct tie to Africa through his African father, so Luttwak pairs that so-called "identity" with his own insistence that there is some genuine way for all of us to think of Obama having a Muslim heritage, which becomes a kinder, gentler, and therefore more believable tie between Obama and being Muslim than the apostate Muslim "identity" Luttwak insists the vast majority of Muslims will insist on seeing.
To make his case that an Obama presidency might actually complicate and even make more difficult America's relations with Islamic countries and peoples, Luttwak makes a claim that Obama's appeal is self-consciously charismatic, and thus invites voters to project onto him their "well-meaning hopes," among which better relations with the Islamic world have an understandable priority.
A similar critique of Obama's leadership style is not unknown here at Corrente, although Luttwak is at pains to claim that he is not criticizing Obama, he's not even saying that worries about a President Obama's impact on our relations with Islam will likely be an issue in the campaign, or that it should be. One wonders, then, why he bothered to write a his op ed?
I would hope that the fact that some of you have specific criticisms of the Obama campaign, and in particular, the charismatic aspects of it, won't be tempted to feel that Luttwak has any point in his op ed worth making. Because he doesn't. I'm not going to claim that I know what his motives were in writing it, but I know that it does the work of the right-wing, and the problems we are having with the Muslim world are far more complex, and have been injured far more by the actions of the Bush administration and it's rightwing supporters than any negatives that might accrue from Barach Obama's birth to an African father and an American mother.
Consider this post my attempt to keep our late, lamented media critique alive and well here at Corrente.