Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama on His Muslim Heritage

Is Senator Barack Obama a Muslim? Why is his middle name Hussein? Did he attend a madrassa (Muslim religious school) in Indonesia? Does he have a soft corner for Muslims? What will his attitude be toward the Islamic world, Pakistanis and the war on terror? Is he "The Manchurian Candidate"?

All of these questions have come up in one way or another during the US presidential race this year. In the closing days of the race, the senator has written a letter talking about his Muslim heritage. Here is the text of the letter:

There has been a lot made in the recent weeks about the Muslim history of my family. Some of the things that have been said are true, others are false, so I am writing this letter to clear up the misunderstandings on this issue.

Yes, it is true that I have a name that is common amongst Kenyan Muslims where my father came from and that my middle name is Hussein. Barack is a name which means 'blessing and Hussein is a masculine form of the word beauty. Since there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of blessings from God and the beauty He creates I fail to see the problem with these names. Some will say wouldn't it be a problem to have a president with a name similar to the deposed and executed former dictator of Iraq? My answer to this is simply no; rather it is the strength and beauty of America that the son of an African man with a 'funny sounding' name, born under British Colonial Rule, can now be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States.

My father was a Muslim and although I did not know him well the religion of my father and his family was always something I had an interest in. This interest became more intense when my mother married an Indonesian Muslim man and as a small child I lived in Indonesia and attended school alongside Muslim pupils. I saw their parents dutifully observing the daily prayers, the mothers covered in the Muslim hijab, the atmosphere of the school change during Ramadan, and the festiveness of the Eid celebrations.

The man my mother was married to was not particularly religious; but he would attend the mosque on occasion, and had copies of the Quran in different languages in the home, and books of the sayings and life of the Prophet Muhammad. From time to time he would quote Islamic phrases such as 'no one truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself', 'oppression is worse than slaughter', and 'all humans are equal the only difference comes from our deeds'.

Growing up in Hawaii with my mother and her grandparents Islam largely escaped my mind. My mother installed(sic) in me the values of humanism and I did not grow-up in a home were(sic) religion was taught.

It was later while I attended college at Columbia University and Harvard Law that I became reacquainted with Muslims as both schools had large Muslims student populations. Some of them were my friends and many came from countries that our nation now has hostile relations with. The background I had from my early childhood in Indonesia helped me get to know them and learn from them and to me Muslims are not to be looked upon as something strange. In my experiences up until college a Muslim was no less exotic to me than a Mormon, a Jew, or a Jehovahs Witness.

After college I settled in my adopted hometown of Chicago and lived on the South Side and worked as a community organizer. Chicago has one of the largest Muslim populations in America (estimated to be around 300,000) and Muslims make-up some of the most productive citizens in the area. I met countless numbers of Muslims in my job as an organizer and later on in my early political career. I ate in their homes, played with their kids, and looked at them as friends and peers and sought their advice.

Therefore, when the tragic terrorist attacks of 9-11 occurred I was deeply saddened with the rest of America , and I wanted justice for the victims of this horrific attack, but I did not blame all Muslims or the religion of Islam. From my experience I knew the good character of most Muslims and the value that they bring to America. Many, who did not personally know Muslims, indicted the entire religion for the bad actions of a few; my experience taught me that this was something foolish and unwise.

Later I had the chance to visit the homeland of my father and meet Muslim relatives of my including my grandmother. I found that these were people who wanted the same things out of life as people right here in America and worked hard, strive to make a better way for their children, and prayed to God to grant them success.

This is what I will bring to the office of the Presidency of the United States. I will deal with Muslims from a position of familiarity and respect and at this time in the history of our nation that is something sorely needed.

Source: Middle East Times

Related Links:

Obama's Muslim Heritage

Obama's Race Dilemma

Obama Through Muslim eyes

Christopher Hitchens Supports Obama

Obama's Two Faces

Is US Headed Toward Dangerous Regional War?

Obamas Lampooned as "Flag Burning Islamic Terrorists"


Riaz Haq said...

Lately, there have been some arrests of American-Muslim and Pakistani-American youths on suspicions of terror. The Internet has been identified as a tool for radicalization and proposals made to deal with it. Here's an interesting post by Reem Salahi in HuffingtonPost on this subject:

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world's population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the "other" and viewing our actions through an "orientalist" lens which frames any Muslim's questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government's infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don't need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live "unremarkable" lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government's continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government's infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI's prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by a former NY Times correspondent Chris Hedges published by on Dec 28, 2009:

Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this, but he is not allowed to speak.

This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements—who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism—have discovered that his fate is their fate. Courageous groups have organized protests, including vigils outside the Manhattan detention facility. They can be found at or On Martin Luther King Day, this Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST, protesters will hold a large vigil in front of the MCC on 150 Park Row in Lower Manhattan to call for a return of our constitutional rights. Join them if you can.

The case against Hashmi, like most of the terrorist cases launched by the Bush administration, is appallingly weak and built on flimsy circumstantial evidence. This may be the reason the state has set up parallel legal and penal codes to railroad those it charges with links to terrorism. If it were a matter of evidence, activists like Hashmi, who is accused of facilitating the delivery of socks to al-Qaida, would probably never be brought to trial.

Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. His “proclivity for violence” is cited as the reason for these measures although he has never been charged or convicted with committing an act of violence.