Thursday, May 22, 2008
I must admit that even with my dark and unrelenting cynicism toward the media I'm a little bit shocked to see op-ed pieces appear in quick succession in two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers calling Barack Obama a "Muslim Apostate." They don't make the assertion that Obama is a Muslim, which he certainly isn't, only that Osama bin Laden and other Islamic fundamentalists consider him one since his father was "born a Muslim." This apparently means that bin Laden will be able to rally the Muslim world against America because Obama has abandoned the true faith.
I'm sure I don't need to explain how silly this is. The last I heard bin Laden wasn't exactly enamored of any of us Murkins, so I find it hard to believe that this news will make him even more hostile than he already is. It's absurd on its face. So why are the Christian Science Monitor and the NY Times printing similar op-eds on the topic? I don't know.
The problem, of course, is that this feeds directly into one of the most jaw droppingly audacious smear campaigns I've ever seen in American politics:
The main obstacle standing between Barack Obama and the White House was distilled into five words by a local television correspondent in South Charleston, W.Va., earlier this month.
Prefacing a question about the challenges of winning over white, blue-collar voters, the reporter offered this observation: “They think you are un-American,” he said.
Such questions, asked by reporters and plainly on the minds of voters in Appalachia and elsewhere, are the fruits of an unprecedented, subterranean e-mail campaign.
What began as a demonstrably false attempt to cast Obama as a Muslim has now metastasized into something far more threatening to the likely Democratic nominee. The spurious claims about his faith have spiraled into a broader assault that questions his patriotism and citizenship and generally portrays him as a threat to mainstream, white America.
Chris Hayes at The Nation did the best sleuthing on how this came about and it ends up being quite the perfect ratfuck, even featuring one of the main wingnuts who created the John Kerry Swift boat smears:
[E]ven if the identity of the e-mail's author was unrecoverable, it was still possible to trace back the roots of its content. The origin proved even more bizarre than I could have guessed.
On August 10, 2004, just two weeks after Obama had given his much-heralded keynote speech at the DNC in Boston, a perennial Republican Senate candidate and self-described "independent contrarian columnist" named Andy Martin issued a press release. In it, he announced a press conference in which he would expose Obama for having "lied to the American people" and "misrepresent[ed] his own heritage."
Martin raised all kinds of strange allegations about Obama but focused on him attempting to hide his Muslim past. "It may well be that his concealment is meant to endanger Israel," read Martin's statement. "His Muslim religion would obviously raise serious questions in many Jewish circles where Obama now enjoys support."
A quick word about Andy Martin. During a 1983 bankruptcy case he referred to a federal judge as a "crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race." Martin, who in the past was known as Anthony Martin-Trigona, is one of the most notorious litigants in the history of the United States. He's filed hundreds, possibly thousands, of lawsuits, often directed at judges who have ruled against him, or media outlets that cover him unfavorably. A 1993 opinion by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, described these lawsuits as "a cruel and effective weapon against his enemies," and called Martin a "notoriously vexatious and vindictive litigator who has long abused the American legal system." He once even attempted to intervene in the divorce proceedings of a judge who'd ruled against him, petitioning the state court to be appointed as the guardian of the judge's children.
When I asked Martin for the source of his allegations about Obama's past, he told me they came from "people in London, among other places." Why London, I asked? "I started talking to them about Kenyan law. Every little morsel led me a little farther along."
Within a few days of Martin's press conference, the conservative site Free Republic had picked it up, attracting a long comment thread, but after that small blip the specious "questions" about Obama's background disappeared. Then, in the fall of 2006, as word got out that Obama was considering a presidential run, murmurs on the Internet resumed. In October a conservative blog called Infidel Bloggers Alliance reposted the Andy Martin press release under the title "Is Barack Obama Lying About His Life Story?" A few days later the online RumorMillNews also reposted the Andy Martin press release in response to a reader's inquiry about whether Obama was a Muslim. Then in December fringe right-wing activist Ted Sampley posted a column on the web raising the possibility that Obama was a secret Muslim. Sampley, who co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry and once accused John McCain of having been a KGB asset, quoted heavily from Martin's original press release. "When Obama was six," Sampley wrote, "his mother, an atheist, married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian Muslim, and moved to Jakarta, Indonesia.... Soetoro enrolled his stepson in one of Jakarta's Muslim Wahabbi schools. Wahabbism is the radical teaching that created the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad on the rest of the world."
On December 29, 2006, the very same day that Sampley posted his column, Snopes received its first copy of the e-mail forward, which contains an identical charge in strikingly similar language. Given the timing, it seems likely that it was a distillation of Sampley's work.
Now, most people, even on the right, reject this stupid story about Obama being a Muslim (although they are picking up little pieces of it in interesting ways.) But this new twist is quite clever. It suggests that while Obama may not practice Islam, in the eyes of bloodthirsty terrorists he is a Muslim who has forsaken the religion and, therefore, is loathed even more than your average infidel.
So, for the email rubes, he is just a straight-up Muslim in league with terrorists. For the elites who read the Times and the Monitor, he's not a Muslim per se, but terrorists think he is and so they're going to unleash Armageddon on us and who needs that? Either way, that Muslim heritage is just a little bit too different for for us to be able to fully trust this man in these troubled times. We don't need someone who's got "special problems" with the Muslim world. Why take chances?
It is completely believable to me that these two papers are too stupid to know that they are propagating a Nixonian dirty trick. But we shouldn't be. This is a highly sophisticated campaign to make Obama just a little bit too exotic for the folks. The question is just how much the press is going to help them. I wouldn't have thought they'd help them at all, it's so bizarre, but here are two highly respected papers publishing this drivel as if it's perfectly normal.
By the way, the Times piece was written by Edward Luttwak, who is, from what I gather, something of an eccentric intellectual. The other was written by an associate professor whose only claim to fame is writing this article. Perhaps it's coincidence that they both came out at the same time. Perhaps the second was commissioned to follow the first. But it doesn't matter. It's "out there."
digby 5/22/2008 06:00:00 PM