Monday, May 12, 2008

Obama's Religious Background Gets New Scrutiny

Edward Luttwak is sure to become the focus of serious ire from Sen. Barack Obama's supporters for bringing into clear focus the issue of Obama's religious background.

Obama may now consider himself a Christian, but he was born a Muslim, which raises serious questions as to how the Islamic world perceives such individuals. Luttwak correctly notes that the penalty for apostasy is death by beheading (though stoning and hanging are commonly imposed today in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran).
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).

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.

So, what effect will this have on the campaign? Well, this may resuscitate the Clinton campaign - pointing out the very obvious problem in running a presidential candidate whose religious background and change in religious observance puts him squarely in the crosshairs for assassinations and terrorism based on his apostasy. She could note the complications that would result from Obama's religious status in dealing with regimes in the Middle East, to say nothing of the security nightmare of arranging visits to such places.

Also, watch for Obama's supporters to launch a full scale attack against Luttwak for writing about Obama's religious background and the questions that his Muslim birth raises. They'll be sure to call him a Rovian plant, a Hillary shill, and far worse.

The sad fact is that many of Obama's supporters do not care about any of the issues with Obama's background, character, or fitness to serve as President. After all, they didn't jump ship when it was revealed that Obama sought counsel with terrorists, Marxists/socialists/leftists, or racist and anti-Semitic preachers.

That Obama is apostate is still Luttwak's opinion based on the claim that Obama was born and raised Muslim, and later turned to Christianity. As an op-ed, the fact checking is dubious enough at the Times to warrant some skepticism (after all, they've been running Krugman's columns without bothering to check his facts repeatedly for years on end). One can only hope that a newsroom somewhere in the country decides to check on the story and see whether Luttwak's claims check out or the Times ran an attack piece disguised as an op-ed. In any event, the Obama campaign will likely claim that this is merely an op-ed with no truth to the matter asserted or that this issue was asked and answered (when in reality, no such definitive answer was made).

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