Commentary Magazine


Topic: preacher

You Want to See Islamophobia?

Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”

If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.

As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.

Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”

If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.

As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.

Read Less

RE: Shut Up, the Islamists Explained

Islamists have been mighty successful in propounding a Big Lie: America is a nation beset by Islamophobes. If anything, the religious bigotry problem both in America and in Europe is one of vicious anti-Semitism, which has become mainstream and even fashionable.

Unlike the concocted Islamophobia — based on hysteria over a single whacked-out pastor and legitimate objections to a mosque at Ground Zero — there is plenty of evidence that anti-Semitism enjoys newfound popularity. Time magazine feels confident that its “Jews only care about money” cover story will hit a chord with the public. European officials suffer no ostracism for hurling epithets at Jews speaking up in defense of the Israel. The Turkish foreign minister talks about a “final solution” and no one bats an eye. Now a new and important film, Crossing the Line, documents the prevalence of not simply anti-Israel activism but also violent anti-Semitism on college campuses. (A five-minute clip is chilling viewing.)

But the chattering class and the media mavens aren’t much concerned with all that. To the contrary, CAIR’s darling Helen Thomas operated comfortably in the Washington press corps until she erred by speaking candidly to a rabbi with a video camera. And while Mayor Bloomberg tells us to hush up about the mosque, and the left blogosphere shouts “bigots” at New Yorkers who’d like the mosque moved, the impresarios of political correctness are mute when a journalist is forced into hiding by Islamic radicals. The Washington Examiner‘s editors explain:

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered. Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.

When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s Web site describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”

From the New York Times to TNR (which I had hoped under the headline ”Atonement” was going to come clean on misguided support for the “pro-Zionist” candidate Barack Obama, who turned out to be anything but), journalists fall over themselves to apologize for affronts to Muslims.

But then, what can we expect when the president proclaims himself Explainer in Chief on behalf of Islam, chants in Cairo the trope of Palestinian exploitation, and dispatches his advisers to pronounce that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is reminiscent of European anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

What started out as a widespread effort to delegitimize Israel has now morphed into a war on defenders of Israel and critics of Islamic radicals. So far they are winning the war — with the help of liberal American elites.

Islamists have been mighty successful in propounding a Big Lie: America is a nation beset by Islamophobes. If anything, the religious bigotry problem both in America and in Europe is one of vicious anti-Semitism, which has become mainstream and even fashionable.

Unlike the concocted Islamophobia — based on hysteria over a single whacked-out pastor and legitimate objections to a mosque at Ground Zero — there is plenty of evidence that anti-Semitism enjoys newfound popularity. Time magazine feels confident that its “Jews only care about money” cover story will hit a chord with the public. European officials suffer no ostracism for hurling epithets at Jews speaking up in defense of the Israel. The Turkish foreign minister talks about a “final solution” and no one bats an eye. Now a new and important film, Crossing the Line, documents the prevalence of not simply anti-Israel activism but also violent anti-Semitism on college campuses. (A five-minute clip is chilling viewing.)

But the chattering class and the media mavens aren’t much concerned with all that. To the contrary, CAIR’s darling Helen Thomas operated comfortably in the Washington press corps until she erred by speaking candidly to a rabbi with a video camera. And while Mayor Bloomberg tells us to hush up about the mosque, and the left blogosphere shouts “bigots” at New Yorkers who’d like the mosque moved, the impresarios of political correctness are mute when a journalist is forced into hiding by Islamic radicals. The Washington Examiner‘s editors explain:

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered. Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.

When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s Web site describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”

From the New York Times to TNR (which I had hoped under the headline ”Atonement” was going to come clean on misguided support for the “pro-Zionist” candidate Barack Obama, who turned out to be anything but), journalists fall over themselves to apologize for affronts to Muslims.

But then, what can we expect when the president proclaims himself Explainer in Chief on behalf of Islam, chants in Cairo the trope of Palestinian exploitation, and dispatches his advisers to pronounce that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is reminiscent of European anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

What started out as a widespread effort to delegitimize Israel has now morphed into a war on defenders of Israel and critics of Islamic radicals. So far they are winning the war — with the help of liberal American elites.

Read Less

Electing a Nanny

One 2012 Republican contender described Obama like this:

The messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues. On national security, this perceived lackadaisical approach that he has to dealing with the terrorists. We’re saying that concerns us and we’re going to speak up about it and please don’t allow this persona to continue where you do try to make us feel like we need to just sit down, shut up and accept what you’re doing to us.

Others agree:

At the very moment he’s trying to recover his declining popularity and revive his party heading into the November elections, even some Democrats worry that he risks coming off not as the inspirational figure who galvanized the electorate in 2008 but as the embodiment of a dour Democrat that turns off some voters.

The first take is from Sarah Palin, the second from Politico. Remarkable how Obama is drawing everyone together, I know. But what is different lately is not Obama but the widespread reaction to his hectoring. Remember, during the campaign, he was scolding us, too. Mary Katharine Ham made a whole video about it. And Michelle Obama warned us:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Turns out all the finger-wagging and nagging doesn’t sit well with the American people. They have spouses, parents, and bosses telling them what to do much of the time, and they don’t need the president bossing them around, too, treating them like recalcitrant children who need perpetual instruction. Even Democrats are nervous:

Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, pointed out that, while Obama has long promised to tell people the truth even when it hurts, he needs to strike a balance.“Part of what people liked about him during the campaign is that he talks to the American people like they’re grown-ups — you don’t have to pretend that you can eat ice cream and lose weight in order to be president,” Myers said. “He did that during the campaign by appealing to hope. … I think little of that has been lost.”

Added Democratic strategist Paul Begala, another Clinton veteran, “You got to be careful about that stuff, or you become a scold.”

Republicans who have long remarked on his condescending tone and message — be it on Gatesgate or ObamaCare — are amused by the newfound consensus. (“‘Nobody wants a national nanny,’ said Republican strategist John Feehery. ‘It’s really annoying, and people don’t want to hear it.’”) Of course, it fits with Obama’s general philosophy that Americans are too dim to run their own lives and need government to guide, monitor, mandate, and regulate everything from health care to carbon emissions. That he lacks age or life experience to dispense such advice is not lost on media skeptics: “Age hasn’t stopped the president, who, at 48, is at ease urging the Obama way — on a range of issues — onto those a lot more experienced than he is. He is at once Americans’ president and their additional dad, teacher, preacher, nutritionist, life coach and financial adviser.”

This seems to be part of the growing realization that what was acceptable or cool during the campaign — including that personal remoteness — does not serve Obama well as president. It is what comes, I suppose, from electing someone we knew so little about and who had so little time on the national stage. Not all blind dates work out.

One 2012 Republican contender described Obama like this:

The messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues. On national security, this perceived lackadaisical approach that he has to dealing with the terrorists. We’re saying that concerns us and we’re going to speak up about it and please don’t allow this persona to continue where you do try to make us feel like we need to just sit down, shut up and accept what you’re doing to us.

Others agree:

At the very moment he’s trying to recover his declining popularity and revive his party heading into the November elections, even some Democrats worry that he risks coming off not as the inspirational figure who galvanized the electorate in 2008 but as the embodiment of a dour Democrat that turns off some voters.

The first take is from Sarah Palin, the second from Politico. Remarkable how Obama is drawing everyone together, I know. But what is different lately is not Obama but the widespread reaction to his hectoring. Remember, during the campaign, he was scolding us, too. Mary Katharine Ham made a whole video about it. And Michelle Obama warned us:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Turns out all the finger-wagging and nagging doesn’t sit well with the American people. They have spouses, parents, and bosses telling them what to do much of the time, and they don’t need the president bossing them around, too, treating them like recalcitrant children who need perpetual instruction. Even Democrats are nervous:

Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, pointed out that, while Obama has long promised to tell people the truth even when it hurts, he needs to strike a balance.“Part of what people liked about him during the campaign is that he talks to the American people like they’re grown-ups — you don’t have to pretend that you can eat ice cream and lose weight in order to be president,” Myers said. “He did that during the campaign by appealing to hope. … I think little of that has been lost.”

Added Democratic strategist Paul Begala, another Clinton veteran, “You got to be careful about that stuff, or you become a scold.”

Republicans who have long remarked on his condescending tone and message — be it on Gatesgate or ObamaCare — are amused by the newfound consensus. (“‘Nobody wants a national nanny,’ said Republican strategist John Feehery. ‘It’s really annoying, and people don’t want to hear it.’”) Of course, it fits with Obama’s general philosophy that Americans are too dim to run their own lives and need government to guide, monitor, mandate, and regulate everything from health care to carbon emissions. That he lacks age or life experience to dispense such advice is not lost on media skeptics: “Age hasn’t stopped the president, who, at 48, is at ease urging the Obama way — on a range of issues — onto those a lot more experienced than he is. He is at once Americans’ president and their additional dad, teacher, preacher, nutritionist, life coach and financial adviser.”

This seems to be part of the growing realization that what was acceptable or cool during the campaign — including that personal remoteness — does not serve Obama well as president. It is what comes, I suppose, from electing someone we knew so little about and who had so little time on the national stage. Not all blind dates work out.

Read Less

There Are Prophets … and Then There Are Prophets

Over at the Huffington Post, Jim Wallis of Sojourners praised the president for his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, which included, in Wallis’s words, a much-needed “plea for civility in our political discourse.” Wallis quoted Obama, who said:

Progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents. It’s not born in righteous spite. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Nice words all the way around.

But what makes all this so darn strange is that Wallis’s Dr Jekyll can, when it serves his narrow ideological purposes, turn into Mr. Hyde. For examples, when George W. Bush was president, here is what Mr. Civility in Public Discourse wrote:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan. … I’ve heard plenty of my Republican friends and public figures call this administration an embarrassment to the best traditions of the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the democratic (small d) tradition of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this war and the shameful way they have fought it. Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to me to come kind of close to demonizing an opponent. Nor do I get the impression that when Wallis looks into the eyes of Bush and Cheney, he is prepared to extend his hand, or open his heart, or see the face of God. According to St. Jim, they are beyond redemption and forgiveness.

I have documented before why Wallis’s claims about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were ignorant, false, and misleading. It’s hard to escape the judgment that Wallis is not only guilty of a glaring double standard; he is also guilty of employing his faith as a crude instrument to advance his own hyper-partisan politics.

There is a season for everything and a season for every activity under heaven — a time for civility and, for Jim Wallis, a time for vicious slander. It all depends on what advances his ideology.

The corruption of faith in the pursuit of politics is a dispiriting thing to witness, especially in one who claims to be a “public theologian,” a “preacher,” an “international commentator on ethics and public life” and — I almost forgot — one who is in the “prophetic tradition.”

Somehow I rather doubt that Wallis will ever be confused with Isaiah or Micah.

Over at the Huffington Post, Jim Wallis of Sojourners praised the president for his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, which included, in Wallis’s words, a much-needed “plea for civility in our political discourse.” Wallis quoted Obama, who said:

Progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents. It’s not born in righteous spite. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Nice words all the way around.

But what makes all this so darn strange is that Wallis’s Dr Jekyll can, when it serves his narrow ideological purposes, turn into Mr. Hyde. For examples, when George W. Bush was president, here is what Mr. Civility in Public Discourse wrote:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan. … I’ve heard plenty of my Republican friends and public figures call this administration an embarrassment to the best traditions of the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the democratic (small d) tradition of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this war and the shameful way they have fought it. Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to me to come kind of close to demonizing an opponent. Nor do I get the impression that when Wallis looks into the eyes of Bush and Cheney, he is prepared to extend his hand, or open his heart, or see the face of God. According to St. Jim, they are beyond redemption and forgiveness.

I have documented before why Wallis’s claims about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were ignorant, false, and misleading. It’s hard to escape the judgment that Wallis is not only guilty of a glaring double standard; he is also guilty of employing his faith as a crude instrument to advance his own hyper-partisan politics.

There is a season for everything and a season for every activity under heaven — a time for civility and, for Jim Wallis, a time for vicious slander. It all depends on what advances his ideology.

The corruption of faith in the pursuit of politics is a dispiriting thing to witness, especially in one who claims to be a “public theologian,” a “preacher,” an “international commentator on ethics and public life” and — I almost forgot — one who is in the “prophetic tradition.”

Somehow I rather doubt that Wallis will ever be confused with Isaiah or Micah.

Read Less

Oprah for President

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980′s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980′s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980′s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980′s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!

Read Less

Obama Got His Dander Up When Wright Came After Him

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)

Read Less

Carter Lies in Cairo

Jimmy Carter’s terrorist outreach tour of the Middle East has brought the purse-mouthed preacher man to Cairo, where he uttered a lie that has been ably demolished by TigerHawk: (h/t JG)

Before the college student could grin in agreement, Carter did the mathematics of bloodshed. He said that for every Israeli killed in the conflict, 30 to 40 Palestinians die because of Israel’s superior military and “pinpoint accuracy.”

Actually, since Yasser Arafat ordered up the current intifada on September 29, 2000, 4,604 Palestinian Arabs have died compared to 1,033 Israelis (figures through February 2008). That’s according to the manifestly anti-Israeli IfAmericansKnew.com. So while any politician can manipulate statistics and I am sure Jimmy Carter could cherry-pick some period of time in which “30 to 40″ Palestinians died compared to a single Israeli, in the sweep of this war the ratio is more like 4.6 to 1.

I kind of get the feeling Carter wishes the 30-40:1 ratio was true.

Jimmy Carter’s terrorist outreach tour of the Middle East has brought the purse-mouthed preacher man to Cairo, where he uttered a lie that has been ably demolished by TigerHawk: (h/t JG)

Before the college student could grin in agreement, Carter did the mathematics of bloodshed. He said that for every Israeli killed in the conflict, 30 to 40 Palestinians die because of Israel’s superior military and “pinpoint accuracy.”

Actually, since Yasser Arafat ordered up the current intifada on September 29, 2000, 4,604 Palestinian Arabs have died compared to 1,033 Israelis (figures through February 2008). That’s according to the manifestly anti-Israeli IfAmericansKnew.com. So while any politician can manipulate statistics and I am sure Jimmy Carter could cherry-pick some period of time in which “30 to 40″ Palestinians died compared to a single Israeli, in the sweep of this war the ratio is more like 4.6 to 1.

I kind of get the feeling Carter wishes the 30-40:1 ratio was true.

Read Less

Worrying . . .

This Los Angeles Times report concerning Barack Obama’s relationship with the U.S. Palestinian community and his long-time friendship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi is worth a read.

Obama’s presence as a state senator at events in which Israel was denounced for practicing “terrorism” and his warm words of praise for Khalidi naturally left the Palestinian community believing he was sympathetic to their cause. Then came Obama’s emergence on the national stage, his presidential run and his efforts to assure the Jewish community and others that he is a stalwart defender of Israel. No more friendly meetings with Khalidi and Palestinian outreach events.

Campaign manager David Axelrod assures us that “in no way” have Obama’s private and public statements differed. But some are still concerned that his newly-expressed solicitude for Israel does not square with his associations or prior rhetoric (“nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people”). Somehow his hyperbole only increases my queasiness (h/t Instapundit).

Then there was Reverend Wright. As Abe Foxman of the ADL put it:

In the context of spending 20 years in a church where now it is clear the anti-Israel rhetoric was there, was repeated . . . that’s what makes his presence at an Arab American event with a Said a greater concern.

What to make of all this? Obama’s supporters will say this proves his ability to reach out to all sides. His critics will say this betrays a dangerous tendency to lead diametrically opposed camps to believe he is “with” each of them. Why dangerous? Because at some point, presidents must make their intentions and positions crystal clear and tell one side “no” or “yes” with total willingness to pay the costs inherent in any decision.

The worry here, I think, is that Obama believes geopolitics works like community activism. His lack of any foreign policy experience, combined with his track record of not standing up to anyone (including a ranting, race-baiting preacher), have given us plenty to worry about.

This Los Angeles Times report concerning Barack Obama’s relationship with the U.S. Palestinian community and his long-time friendship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi is worth a read.

Obama’s presence as a state senator at events in which Israel was denounced for practicing “terrorism” and his warm words of praise for Khalidi naturally left the Palestinian community believing he was sympathetic to their cause. Then came Obama’s emergence on the national stage, his presidential run and his efforts to assure the Jewish community and others that he is a stalwart defender of Israel. No more friendly meetings with Khalidi and Palestinian outreach events.

Campaign manager David Axelrod assures us that “in no way” have Obama’s private and public statements differed. But some are still concerned that his newly-expressed solicitude for Israel does not square with his associations or prior rhetoric (“nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people”). Somehow his hyperbole only increases my queasiness (h/t Instapundit).

Then there was Reverend Wright. As Abe Foxman of the ADL put it:

In the context of spending 20 years in a church where now it is clear the anti-Israel rhetoric was there, was repeated . . . that’s what makes his presence at an Arab American event with a Said a greater concern.

What to make of all this? Obama’s supporters will say this proves his ability to reach out to all sides. His critics will say this betrays a dangerous tendency to lead diametrically opposed camps to believe he is “with” each of them. Why dangerous? Because at some point, presidents must make their intentions and positions crystal clear and tell one side “no” or “yes” with total willingness to pay the costs inherent in any decision.

The worry here, I think, is that Obama believes geopolitics works like community activism. His lack of any foreign policy experience, combined with his track record of not standing up to anyone (including a ranting, race-baiting preacher), have given us plenty to worry about.

Read Less

This Doesn’t Help

Barack Obama declares that Reverend Wright does not preside over a “crackpot church” and that had Obama personally heard “the most offensive remarks that had come up . . . we probably would have a more intense conversation.” Bluntly, the issue is not whether the church is “crackpot,” but whether the stated positions of its preacher are. And if so, why at worst would these “probably” would have provoked only an “intense conversation”?

Obama seems to be an intelligent and decent person. Yet when he says this sort of thing, you wonder what in heaven’s name is wrong with him. What would it have taken for Obama to leave Wright’s church? Or speak out publicly against these statements? It is growing painfully obvious that Obama is drawing some distinction, which he doesn’t want to or can’t possibly explain, between “controversial” statements which he was familiar with (and sat through) and these “most offensive” comments. Isn’t it time to come clean about what that distinction is and what he did hear so we can assess what type of comments he thinks don’t even warrant “an intense conversation”?

Barack Obama declares that Reverend Wright does not preside over a “crackpot church” and that had Obama personally heard “the most offensive remarks that had come up . . . we probably would have a more intense conversation.” Bluntly, the issue is not whether the church is “crackpot,” but whether the stated positions of its preacher are. And if so, why at worst would these “probably” would have provoked only an “intense conversation”?

Obama seems to be an intelligent and decent person. Yet when he says this sort of thing, you wonder what in heaven’s name is wrong with him. What would it have taken for Obama to leave Wright’s church? Or speak out publicly against these statements? It is growing painfully obvious that Obama is drawing some distinction, which he doesn’t want to or can’t possibly explain, between “controversial” statements which he was familiar with (and sat through) and these “most offensive” comments. Isn’t it time to come clean about what that distinction is and what he did hear so we can assess what type of comments he thinks don’t even warrant “an intense conversation”?

Read Less

A Few Signs Of Fallout

Being tied in North Carolina and falling further behind in Pennsylvania are two small, post-Wright indications that things are not going swimmingly for Barack Obama. The Clinton camp is crowing about improved polling, although does not want to link it to Wright. And a savvy Democrat (h/t Ben Smith) or two noticed that Obama really did not explain what he was doing hanging out with a preacher spouting racist, anti-American venom. If Clinton keeps her lead, wins Pennsylvania by a big margin and comes close in North Carolina she will be crowing that the bottom has fallen out of Obama’s campaign. Should she win North Carolina, the media will be saying the same thing.

Being tied in North Carolina and falling further behind in Pennsylvania are two small, post-Wright indications that things are not going swimmingly for Barack Obama. The Clinton camp is crowing about improved polling, although does not want to link it to Wright. And a savvy Democrat (h/t Ben Smith) or two noticed that Obama really did not explain what he was doing hanging out with a preacher spouting racist, anti-American venom. If Clinton keeps her lead, wins Pennsylvania by a big margin and comes close in North Carolina she will be crowing that the bottom has fallen out of Obama’s campaign. Should she win North Carolina, the media will be saying the same thing.

Read Less

Hillary’s Wright Moment

Given the mostly positive response that Barack Obama’s speech on race in America has received in the media, it looks as though Obama will be able to put the anti-American and racist comments of his preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, behind him. While Obama’s handling of this controversy provides yet another example of his impressive political skills, the very fact that he had to address Wright’s comments at all always seemed rather unfair. After all, of the two Democrats still contending for the presidency, Obama is the only candidate not to make incendiary comments in a black church.

Indeed, recall Hillary’s speech during a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at a Harlem church in 2006: Hillary declared, “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation. And you know what I’m talking about!” At the moment this statement was made, the audience fell virtually silent, while public outrage ensued. Yet in contrast to Obama’s apology for comments he didn’t make, Hillary refused to apologize for her actual race-baiting, saying, “I’ve said that before, and I believe it is an accurate description of the kind of top-down way that the House of Representatives is run that denies meaningful debate.”

Of course, the media’s failure to mention Hillary’s own abuse of the pulpit isn’t the first time that she has been given a pass for blatant race-baiting as a strategy for courting the African-American vote. At a debate hosted by Howard University in June 2007, Hillary said, “If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.” Despite the disturbingly conspiratorial nature of this statement, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert applauded it; the New York Observer cast it as a debate highlight; National Journal called it “inspired”; and it otherwise received minimal coverage.

In short, when will Hillary Clinton’s racially infused rhetoric receive the same scrutiny to which Obama’s associates have been subjected?

Given the mostly positive response that Barack Obama’s speech on race in America has received in the media, it looks as though Obama will be able to put the anti-American and racist comments of his preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, behind him. While Obama’s handling of this controversy provides yet another example of his impressive political skills, the very fact that he had to address Wright’s comments at all always seemed rather unfair. After all, of the two Democrats still contending for the presidency, Obama is the only candidate not to make incendiary comments in a black church.

Indeed, recall Hillary’s speech during a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at a Harlem church in 2006: Hillary declared, “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation. And you know what I’m talking about!” At the moment this statement was made, the audience fell virtually silent, while public outrage ensued. Yet in contrast to Obama’s apology for comments he didn’t make, Hillary refused to apologize for her actual race-baiting, saying, “I’ve said that before, and I believe it is an accurate description of the kind of top-down way that the House of Representatives is run that denies meaningful debate.”

Of course, the media’s failure to mention Hillary’s own abuse of the pulpit isn’t the first time that she has been given a pass for blatant race-baiting as a strategy for courting the African-American vote. At a debate hosted by Howard University in June 2007, Hillary said, “If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.” Despite the disturbingly conspiratorial nature of this statement, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert applauded it; the New York Observer cast it as a debate highlight; National Journal called it “inspired”; and it otherwise received minimal coverage.

In short, when will Hillary Clinton’s racially infused rhetoric receive the same scrutiny to which Obama’s associates have been subjected?

Read Less

The Halo Has Slipped

If you’re looking for some comfort that Barack Obama wasn’t trying to play it both ways–endearing himself to extreme and paranoid fringe members of Chicago’s African-American community while preaching racial unity–his speech today won’t help. He asked the right questions, but dodged the crucial concern:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Labeling the remarks he heard as “controversial” is, of course, old-style political hide-the-ball. This attempt to minimize and wrap in euphemism what he probably heard–anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-white venom–is not going to satisfy those who say “My rabbi/priest/minister never said that stuff.” (By the way, if he’s so concerned about raising children properly, why was he subjecting his kids to this?)

And if you were expecting him to disassociate himself from someone whose words are indistinguishable in key respects from Louis Farrakhan’s, forget it. He dug in with this:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. . .

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Notice how he now limits to “conversations” those instances in which Wright did not deride other racial and ethnic groups? I think the truth, buried in all this rhetoric and gloss, is clear: Obama sat there in church for twenty years, listening with his kids to a preacher vilifying his country, white people in general, and the state of Israel, and lacked the moral gumption to leave. I think the halo has slipped.

If you’re looking for some comfort that Barack Obama wasn’t trying to play it both ways–endearing himself to extreme and paranoid fringe members of Chicago’s African-American community while preaching racial unity–his speech today won’t help. He asked the right questions, but dodged the crucial concern:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Labeling the remarks he heard as “controversial” is, of course, old-style political hide-the-ball. This attempt to minimize and wrap in euphemism what he probably heard–anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-white venom–is not going to satisfy those who say “My rabbi/priest/minister never said that stuff.” (By the way, if he’s so concerned about raising children properly, why was he subjecting his kids to this?)

And if you were expecting him to disassociate himself from someone whose words are indistinguishable in key respects from Louis Farrakhan’s, forget it. He dug in with this:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. . .

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Notice how he now limits to “conversations” those instances in which Wright did not deride other racial and ethnic groups? I think the truth, buried in all this rhetoric and gloss, is clear: Obama sat there in church for twenty years, listening with his kids to a preacher vilifying his country, white people in general, and the state of Israel, and lacked the moral gumption to leave. I think the halo has slipped.

Read Less

Torture in Ramallah

Among Israelis, Hamas has a reputation for honesty alongside its brutality. Unlike the PA, Hamas doesn’t hide its intentions, nor does it hide its resentment of other Arab groups. So we should take it seriously when Hamas declares that Palestinian Authority prisons are “worse than Israeli occupation prisons with regards to prisoners’ rights.” This, in the wake of the death of a 44-year-old Hamas preacher in a Ramallah prison, just a week after the PA arrested him. According to the report on Ynet,

The Hamas movement received some support from a report by one of the main human rights organizations in the Palestinian Territories, A-Damir – a group that specializes in defending the rights of prisoners. The organization noted that it appears that Barghouti was tortured in a Palestinian intelligence service base and added that the PA group refuse to allow Barghouti to continue medical treatment at a hospital in spite of doctors’ recommendations.

Now, I really do believe that Hamas is an evil organization, and that its preachings of terror and violence are a serious threat. But one has to wonder why we have not heard more about conditions in Palestinian prisons, and whether international human rights organizations, which spill so much ink in addressing American and Israeli prisons, will take a serious look at what happens in places where there is no “occupation.”

Among Israelis, Hamas has a reputation for honesty alongside its brutality. Unlike the PA, Hamas doesn’t hide its intentions, nor does it hide its resentment of other Arab groups. So we should take it seriously when Hamas declares that Palestinian Authority prisons are “worse than Israeli occupation prisons with regards to prisoners’ rights.” This, in the wake of the death of a 44-year-old Hamas preacher in a Ramallah prison, just a week after the PA arrested him. According to the report on Ynet,

The Hamas movement received some support from a report by one of the main human rights organizations in the Palestinian Territories, A-Damir – a group that specializes in defending the rights of prisoners. The organization noted that it appears that Barghouti was tortured in a Palestinian intelligence service base and added that the PA group refuse to allow Barghouti to continue medical treatment at a hospital in spite of doctors’ recommendations.

Now, I really do believe that Hamas is an evil organization, and that its preachings of terror and violence are a serious threat. But one has to wonder why we have not heard more about conditions in Palestinian prisons, and whether international human rights organizations, which spill so much ink in addressing American and Israeli prisons, will take a serious look at what happens in places where there is no “occupation.”

Read Less

Obama’s Teflon Passivity

Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of low-level flare-ups surrounding Barack Obama which he has, quite remarkably, been able to dismiss with a wave of the hand. Take, for instance, questions raised about his Farrakhan-loving preacher Jeremiah Wright. Those who made mere mention of Obama’s association with Wright were categorically condemned as smear artists little different from those who peddled stories earlier in the campaign that Obama was some sort of Manchurian Muslim candidate. The Obama campaign’s lame response to the Wright contretemps — that Obama doesn’t always agree with the preacher whose ministry he joined many years ago, whom he has praised as a mentor, whom he chose to deliver the invocation at the rally announcing his candidacy but whose invitation he withdrew at the last minute, who coined the vacuous term “Audacity of Hope” — did not nearly go far enough in explaining the Obama-Wright relationship.

Then there were the photographs that hit the blogs this week showing Obama’s Houston campaign headquarters festooned with flags of Che Guevara. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in his Sunday Boston Globe column, this was a strange thing to hang in the office of a candidate so often likened to the man who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Days after the story made headlines, the Obama campaign issued a press release stating that the display of Guevara’s visage “does not reflect Senator Obama’s views.” Good to know.

The latest incident was a story last week in the New York Sun, which revealed that Zbigniew Brzezinski, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, traveled to Damascus to meet with, according to his spokesperson, “high level people in the region.” Even though Obama himself has said he would meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, the campaign assured the Sun that, “Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq.”

It is understandable that Obama has not taken these challenges to his campaign seriously, seeing that Democratic primary voters probably care little — if at all — about a candidate’s associations with anti-Semitic preachers, campaign workers who revere Che Guevara or a foreign policy adviser who sips tea with a regime that kills Lebanese politicians. But these things will matter once the general election campaign begins, and I hope that Barack Obama drops his passivity accordingly.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of low-level flare-ups surrounding Barack Obama which he has, quite remarkably, been able to dismiss with a wave of the hand. Take, for instance, questions raised about his Farrakhan-loving preacher Jeremiah Wright. Those who made mere mention of Obama’s association with Wright were categorically condemned as smear artists little different from those who peddled stories earlier in the campaign that Obama was some sort of Manchurian Muslim candidate. The Obama campaign’s lame response to the Wright contretemps — that Obama doesn’t always agree with the preacher whose ministry he joined many years ago, whom he has praised as a mentor, whom he chose to deliver the invocation at the rally announcing his candidacy but whose invitation he withdrew at the last minute, who coined the vacuous term “Audacity of Hope” — did not nearly go far enough in explaining the Obama-Wright relationship.

Then there were the photographs that hit the blogs this week showing Obama’s Houston campaign headquarters festooned with flags of Che Guevara. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in his Sunday Boston Globe column, this was a strange thing to hang in the office of a candidate so often likened to the man who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Days after the story made headlines, the Obama campaign issued a press release stating that the display of Guevara’s visage “does not reflect Senator Obama’s views.” Good to know.

The latest incident was a story last week in the New York Sun, which revealed that Zbigniew Brzezinski, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, traveled to Damascus to meet with, according to his spokesperson, “high level people in the region.” Even though Obama himself has said he would meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, the campaign assured the Sun that, “Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq.”

It is understandable that Obama has not taken these challenges to his campaign seriously, seeing that Democratic primary voters probably care little — if at all — about a candidate’s associations with anti-Semitic preachers, campaign workers who revere Che Guevara or a foreign policy adviser who sips tea with a regime that kills Lebanese politicians. But these things will matter once the general election campaign begins, and I hope that Barack Obama drops his passivity accordingly.

Read Less

American Idol

The Barack Obama phenomenon puzzles me. I recognize that he is a handsome, articulate politician who seems, for the moment at least, to have the capacity to square circles. In recent months I’ve asked my students and former students, who are exceptionally thoughtful young people, whom they were supporting for president. Roughly three-quarters of them, including some who described themselves as independents or Republicans, support Obama, almost all with enthusiasm.

When I asked why they liked him, their responses, even from those who were articulate, were almost all vague. Race played some role in their views, but it didn’t seem to be primary. Mostly they told me about their disdain for both President Bush and the Democratic Congress, and the need for “change,” with little elaboration as to what that change would be.

What’s odd is that I get the same leap of faith with no clear basis of support from older and in some cases politically savvy and highly intelligent people. With these older folk, not all of whom are liberal, neither Obama’s lack of achievements, nor his woolly foreign policy statements, nor dubious episodes in his career such as his infatuation with a Black Nationalist minister and involvements with shady Chicago characters has any effect. I’ve had a half-dozen variants of the following conversation:

Usually Thoughtful Friend: “Obama has big ideas.”

Fred: “What are these ideas?”

Friend: “He’s a very bright guy who went to Columbia and Harvard.”

Fred: “Again, what are these ideas?”

Friend: “Diplomacy and civility are important.”

Fred: “Who would argue with that?”

Friend: “I can’t explain it, he’s just got something.”

If I continue to press, what I’m told, in a tone of voice suggesting that there’s an unspoken consensus on the subject, is that “this election is about character and personality.” If they’re Bush critics, I ask, “But isn’t that what W ran on in 2000? “Yes,” comes back the answer, “but this is different.”

So what’s this all about? Some of it is that Obama represents an opportunity to ditch Hillary now that Dems think they’ve found a better horse. But for those I’ve talked to who are older partisan Democrats who’ve reconciled themselves to the loss of white middle class male voters, Obama’s appeal in part is that he incarnates the Democratic Party. He is both a highly educated member of the upper middle class and a half-minority. As one of my acquaintances put it, referring to the way Obama blends an educated articulation of policy positions with the uplifting cadences of the African-American preacher: “Who better to represent us?” Some continue: “Who better to heal our racial wounds?” When I press them on this point, explaining that I live in the most racially diverse neighborhood in the U.S. and that I’m not looking for a priestly President who can absolve me of my sins, I’m told that such absolution is a good thing—whether I want it or not.

Among the younger people I’ve talked to, he draws adulation from both starry-eyed young liberals and those who see him as beyond partisan politics. That’s an impressive feat, a tribute to his ability to project an image of rectitude unsullied by the ordinary trench warfare of politics. But there is a two part question that seems to stop all of the Obama admirers, young or old, that I’ve talked to in their tracks. Can he, I ask, govern? Could he be a commander in chief? The most common reactions, I get is “that’s beside the point,” or “I’m not sure,” or “I haven’t thought about that,” or “you’ve got a point, but . . . .” The election to date—with Huckabee as Obama’s GOP counterpart—is turning into an episode of American Idol where the performance is the thing, albeit with a religious twist.

The Barack Obama phenomenon puzzles me. I recognize that he is a handsome, articulate politician who seems, for the moment at least, to have the capacity to square circles. In recent months I’ve asked my students and former students, who are exceptionally thoughtful young people, whom they were supporting for president. Roughly three-quarters of them, including some who described themselves as independents or Republicans, support Obama, almost all with enthusiasm.

When I asked why they liked him, their responses, even from those who were articulate, were almost all vague. Race played some role in their views, but it didn’t seem to be primary. Mostly they told me about their disdain for both President Bush and the Democratic Congress, and the need for “change,” with little elaboration as to what that change would be.

What’s odd is that I get the same leap of faith with no clear basis of support from older and in some cases politically savvy and highly intelligent people. With these older folk, not all of whom are liberal, neither Obama’s lack of achievements, nor his woolly foreign policy statements, nor dubious episodes in his career such as his infatuation with a Black Nationalist minister and involvements with shady Chicago characters has any effect. I’ve had a half-dozen variants of the following conversation:

Usually Thoughtful Friend: “Obama has big ideas.”

Fred: “What are these ideas?”

Friend: “He’s a very bright guy who went to Columbia and Harvard.”

Fred: “Again, what are these ideas?”

Friend: “Diplomacy and civility are important.”

Fred: “Who would argue with that?”

Friend: “I can’t explain it, he’s just got something.”

If I continue to press, what I’m told, in a tone of voice suggesting that there’s an unspoken consensus on the subject, is that “this election is about character and personality.” If they’re Bush critics, I ask, “But isn’t that what W ran on in 2000? “Yes,” comes back the answer, “but this is different.”

So what’s this all about? Some of it is that Obama represents an opportunity to ditch Hillary now that Dems think they’ve found a better horse. But for those I’ve talked to who are older partisan Democrats who’ve reconciled themselves to the loss of white middle class male voters, Obama’s appeal in part is that he incarnates the Democratic Party. He is both a highly educated member of the upper middle class and a half-minority. As one of my acquaintances put it, referring to the way Obama blends an educated articulation of policy positions with the uplifting cadences of the African-American preacher: “Who better to represent us?” Some continue: “Who better to heal our racial wounds?” When I press them on this point, explaining that I live in the most racially diverse neighborhood in the U.S. and that I’m not looking for a priestly President who can absolve me of my sins, I’m told that such absolution is a good thing—whether I want it or not.

Among the younger people I’ve talked to, he draws adulation from both starry-eyed young liberals and those who see him as beyond partisan politics. That’s an impressive feat, a tribute to his ability to project an image of rectitude unsullied by the ordinary trench warfare of politics. But there is a two part question that seems to stop all of the Obama admirers, young or old, that I’ve talked to in their tracks. Can he, I ask, govern? Could he be a commander in chief? The most common reactions, I get is “that’s beside the point,” or “I’m not sure,” or “I haven’t thought about that,” or “you’ve got a point, but . . . .” The election to date—with Huckabee as Obama’s GOP counterpart—is turning into an episode of American Idol where the performance is the thing, albeit with a religious twist.

Read Less

IOWA: The Preachers

Listening to Mike Huckabee, who was a radio announcer before he was a minister, one cannot help but notice the brilliance of his style of performance — he is a very, very cool customer who uses quiet to his advantage, a preacher who forces you to lean forward to catch his words. Barack Obama, also a spellbinding speaker, uses a more intense style of preachment, but maintains his urgency without ever becoming heated. They are delightful to listen to, and surely that has contributed mightily to their mutual triumph tonight.

Listening to Mike Huckabee, who was a radio announcer before he was a minister, one cannot help but notice the brilliance of his style of performance — he is a very, very cool customer who uses quiet to his advantage, a preacher who forces you to lean forward to catch his words. Barack Obama, also a spellbinding speaker, uses a more intense style of preachment, but maintains his urgency without ever becoming heated. They are delightful to listen to, and surely that has contributed mightily to their mutual triumph tonight.

Read Less

Graham Goes to China

Earlier this month, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy, wrapped up the Hong Kong Franklin Graham Festival, his largest evangelistic event. Over the course of four days he preached to 423,335 people in Hong Kong and Macau. The two cities are special administrative regions on the southern periphery of the People’s Republic of China.

“I feel as though I am an ambassador for Christ, to bring this wonderful message to this part of the world,” Graham said. The famous preacher was undoubtedly happy that 33,464 souls accepted Jesus in his presence, yet he had a higher calling in mind. As he noted, “We pray that God will open up other doors.”

Which other doors, we might ask? Graham said he will go to Beijing in May to see if he can stage one of his extravaganzas on the mainland. “When I look at China and there’s a billion people and God loves each and every one of them; that is a wonderful truth and that is a great message that we are here to share with this city and this great nation,” he said. China, with a rapidly aging population, is religion’s most fertile ground today.

Read More

Earlier this month, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy, wrapped up the Hong Kong Franklin Graham Festival, his largest evangelistic event. Over the course of four days he preached to 423,335 people in Hong Kong and Macau. The two cities are special administrative regions on the southern periphery of the People’s Republic of China.

“I feel as though I am an ambassador for Christ, to bring this wonderful message to this part of the world,” Graham said. The famous preacher was undoubtedly happy that 33,464 souls accepted Jesus in his presence, yet he had a higher calling in mind. As he noted, “We pray that God will open up other doors.”

Which other doors, we might ask? Graham said he will go to Beijing in May to see if he can stage one of his extravaganzas on the mainland. “When I look at China and there’s a billion people and God loves each and every one of them; that is a wonderful truth and that is a great message that we are here to share with this city and this great nation,” he said. China, with a rapidly aging population, is religion’s most fertile ground today.

He’ll need God’s help to accomplish this. So far, the Chinese central government, which is officially atheistic and deeply hostile to religion, has confined prayer meetings to churches and prohibited the mass gatherings that Graham has in mind. Billy’s son should be glad that he is at least getting an audience with China’s Communist leaders. Those leaders have persecuted and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians of all denominations.

Officially, Beijing says it guarantees freedom of religion, but it tolerates only seven “patriotic” religious organizations run by the state, and it has carried on long-running disputes with religious figures such as the Dalai Lama and the last six popes. An untold number of Chinese have died because they prayed in the way they chose.

Five mainland officials attended the Hong Kong event at Graham’s invitation, and due to his family’s long-standing connections to China—his mother was born there, for instance—he has a better chance than most of being able to stage some sort of event. Yet the Communist Party is an insecure mass organization that has lost the loyalty of most of its people and will not tolerate any organization it does not control. It will not allow a charismatic reverend to convert millions of Chinese at one time. Among other things, that would be too embarrassing.

Read Less

The Two-Man Republican Race

Rudy Giuliani has either stalled or fallen some in the polls over the last month, and questions are being raised about his campaign’s “theory of the race” — which is, basically, that he can successfully wait to win a state until Florida’s primary on January 29 and use his victory there to rack up a huge number of delegates a week later when Republican voters in 21 states go to the polls to select a nominee.

Friend and foe alike ask whether Giuliani can really afford to lose the first three states of the primary season — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — especially when those states may all be won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Why won’t these losses cause the bloom to fade from the Giuliani rose? Why won’t Republicans then transfer their affections to Romney? Why wouldn’t those Romney triumphs put the former governor in a position to win the crucial Florida primary on January 29, thereby effectively putting an end to the Giuliani candidacy?

These are all very good questions, and there is something notable about them. They suggest that the Republican primary is a two-man race.

Romney has a coherent plan for victory: He is fighting like mad to win early states in the hope that those victories will catapult him into the big primary as the leader. So he is leading in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but is trailing badly in national polls.

Giuliani has a coherent plan for victory: Use his persistent standing at the top of the national leader board and his deep popularity in Florida (land of ex-New Yorkers) to his advantage by allowing him to bypass the earlier, smaller, more eccentric states where he has less of a chance to prevail.

The other three contenders for the nomination seem to have no plan for victory. John McCain is refusing to go gentle into that good night, and his brave advocacy of the Petraeus surge has given him renewed standing among Republican primary voters — but he has no money and has just made too many enemies. Fred Thompson got into the race in September to test the notion that dissatisfaction with the choices on hand would cause a wave of support to flow his way. Interesting idea, but it didn’t work, and now the support that did flow to him is flowing away. Mike Huckabee, Baptist preacher turned politician, has taken Thompson’s place as the Southern conservative to watch, but while he is conservative on social issues, on economic and political matters he seems more in the populist traditions of the Democratic party, and he has no plausible path to the nomination.

That leaves Giuliani and Romney. So, knowing what we know today – Giuliani leading in the national polls but slipping and Romney leading in the early states, slipping in Iowa but gaining in New Hampshire and South Carolina — which candidate is in a better position?

I think Giuliani is, and I do not say this as an advocate. In all three states where Romney is leading, he is facing distinct challenges. Huckabee is gaining on him in Iowa. McCain has advanced in New Hampshire even as Giuliani has faded some. And he is in a statistical dead heat in South Carolina with Giuliani and Thompson.

Under these conditions, Romney might win in all three, but do so in a less than commanding fashion that allows the media to focus attention on those who come in second — Huckabee, McCain, and even Giuliani. After all, the only time a win isn’t a win is in primary politics. (Quick — which Democrat won New Hampshire in 1992? No, it wasn’t Bill Clinton, the self-declared “Comeback Kid.” It was Paul Tsongas.)

Meanwhile, Giuliani still leads by an average of 16 points in Florida. If he wins there, he erases every advantage Romney might have attained, including a delegate lead. And heads into the big primary as the name in the headlines.

All that said, with Romney feeling the heat from Huckabee in Iowa and forced therefore to concentrate on the state in December (the caucuses are on January 3), it is plausible that Giuliani will decide to shift gears a bit and make a far more substantial push in New Hampshire. Because if he wins there, or comes very close, the Romney theory of victory evaporates and then the only man left standing is Giuliani.

(All this theorizing, of course, comes to naught if somebody makes a huge blunder or is the subject of an unflattering revelation.)

Rudy Giuliani has either stalled or fallen some in the polls over the last month, and questions are being raised about his campaign’s “theory of the race” — which is, basically, that he can successfully wait to win a state until Florida’s primary on January 29 and use his victory there to rack up a huge number of delegates a week later when Republican voters in 21 states go to the polls to select a nominee.

Friend and foe alike ask whether Giuliani can really afford to lose the first three states of the primary season — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — especially when those states may all be won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Why won’t these losses cause the bloom to fade from the Giuliani rose? Why won’t Republicans then transfer their affections to Romney? Why wouldn’t those Romney triumphs put the former governor in a position to win the crucial Florida primary on January 29, thereby effectively putting an end to the Giuliani candidacy?

These are all very good questions, and there is something notable about them. They suggest that the Republican primary is a two-man race.

Romney has a coherent plan for victory: He is fighting like mad to win early states in the hope that those victories will catapult him into the big primary as the leader. So he is leading in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but is trailing badly in national polls.

Giuliani has a coherent plan for victory: Use his persistent standing at the top of the national leader board and his deep popularity in Florida (land of ex-New Yorkers) to his advantage by allowing him to bypass the earlier, smaller, more eccentric states where he has less of a chance to prevail.

The other three contenders for the nomination seem to have no plan for victory. John McCain is refusing to go gentle into that good night, and his brave advocacy of the Petraeus surge has given him renewed standing among Republican primary voters — but he has no money and has just made too many enemies. Fred Thompson got into the race in September to test the notion that dissatisfaction with the choices on hand would cause a wave of support to flow his way. Interesting idea, but it didn’t work, and now the support that did flow to him is flowing away. Mike Huckabee, Baptist preacher turned politician, has taken Thompson’s place as the Southern conservative to watch, but while he is conservative on social issues, on economic and political matters he seems more in the populist traditions of the Democratic party, and he has no plausible path to the nomination.

That leaves Giuliani and Romney. So, knowing what we know today – Giuliani leading in the national polls but slipping and Romney leading in the early states, slipping in Iowa but gaining in New Hampshire and South Carolina — which candidate is in a better position?

I think Giuliani is, and I do not say this as an advocate. In all three states where Romney is leading, he is facing distinct challenges. Huckabee is gaining on him in Iowa. McCain has advanced in New Hampshire even as Giuliani has faded some. And he is in a statistical dead heat in South Carolina with Giuliani and Thompson.

Under these conditions, Romney might win in all three, but do so in a less than commanding fashion that allows the media to focus attention on those who come in second — Huckabee, McCain, and even Giuliani. After all, the only time a win isn’t a win is in primary politics. (Quick — which Democrat won New Hampshire in 1992? No, it wasn’t Bill Clinton, the self-declared “Comeback Kid.” It was Paul Tsongas.)

Meanwhile, Giuliani still leads by an average of 16 points in Florida. If he wins there, he erases every advantage Romney might have attained, including a delegate lead. And heads into the big primary as the name in the headlines.

All that said, with Romney feeling the heat from Huckabee in Iowa and forced therefore to concentrate on the state in December (the caucuses are on January 3), it is plausible that Giuliani will decide to shift gears a bit and make a far more substantial push in New Hampshire. Because if he wins there, or comes very close, the Romney theory of victory evaporates and then the only man left standing is Giuliani.

(All this theorizing, of course, comes to naught if somebody makes a huge blunder or is the subject of an unflattering revelation.)

Read Less

William Jennings Huckabee

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s silver-tongued performance at the October 18 Values Voters forum in Washington, DC, together with his rising poll numbers in Iowa where he is in second place, has shaken up the GOP. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who’s never needed to employ a speechwriter, was greeted with a standing ovation. In what has to be the first ever presidential candidate shout-out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Huckabee made his case for the little guy. “It’s a lot better to be with David than Goliath,” he declared. “Or with Elijah than 850 prophets of Baal. Or with Daniel and the lions than the Babylonians.”

Huckabee drew sustained applause when he told the crowd that “We do not have the right to move God’s standard to meet the cultural norm but we need to move the cultural norm to meet God’s standards.” But he struck a note with broader appeal when he drew laughter and applause by telling the crowd, “It is high time for us to tell Saudi Arabia that in ten years we will have as much interest in their oil as their sand; they can keep both of them.” “For too long,” he continued, “we have financed both sides of the war on terrorism; our tax dollars pay for our military to fight it and our oil dollars—every time you fill the tank—is turned into the madrasahs that teach terrorists and the money that funds them.”

Taking a shot at Mitt Romney, he drew cheers when, speaking in the cadences of a man at the pulpit, he insisted “it’s important that the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.” The argument took. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council concluded that Huckabee “comes out of here clearly as a favorite.” The rank and file attendees concurred. In an event where all the major candidates spoke, Huckabee was the runaway winner with 50 percent support (with Romney a distant second at 10 percent).

Huckabee’s rise has brought a sharp response from some (like conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly) who consider him too soft on illegal immigration. But the big guns have been fired by low-tax, free-trade, business Republicans (such as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth) who are mindful of Huckabee’s verbal volleys aimed at the financial sector’s sizable profits. These Republicans don’t see how Huckabee, who has expressed some doubts about free trade, can win the top spot. Still, they fear that he has established himself as a strong candidate for the vice-presidential slot on the Republican ticket, where he could alienate the fiscally conservative swing voters who deserted the GOP in 2006.

Read More

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s silver-tongued performance at the October 18 Values Voters forum in Washington, DC, together with his rising poll numbers in Iowa where he is in second place, has shaken up the GOP. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who’s never needed to employ a speechwriter, was greeted with a standing ovation. In what has to be the first ever presidential candidate shout-out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Huckabee made his case for the little guy. “It’s a lot better to be with David than Goliath,” he declared. “Or with Elijah than 850 prophets of Baal. Or with Daniel and the lions than the Babylonians.”

Huckabee drew sustained applause when he told the crowd that “We do not have the right to move God’s standard to meet the cultural norm but we need to move the cultural norm to meet God’s standards.” But he struck a note with broader appeal when he drew laughter and applause by telling the crowd, “It is high time for us to tell Saudi Arabia that in ten years we will have as much interest in their oil as their sand; they can keep both of them.” “For too long,” he continued, “we have financed both sides of the war on terrorism; our tax dollars pay for our military to fight it and our oil dollars—every time you fill the tank—is turned into the madrasahs that teach terrorists and the money that funds them.”

Taking a shot at Mitt Romney, he drew cheers when, speaking in the cadences of a man at the pulpit, he insisted “it’s important that the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.” The argument took. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council concluded that Huckabee “comes out of here clearly as a favorite.” The rank and file attendees concurred. In an event where all the major candidates spoke, Huckabee was the runaway winner with 50 percent support (with Romney a distant second at 10 percent).

Huckabee’s rise has brought a sharp response from some (like conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly) who consider him too soft on illegal immigration. But the big guns have been fired by low-tax, free-trade, business Republicans (such as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth) who are mindful of Huckabee’s verbal volleys aimed at the financial sector’s sizable profits. These Republicans don’t see how Huckabee, who has expressed some doubts about free trade, can win the top spot. Still, they fear that he has established himself as a strong candidate for the vice-presidential slot on the Republican ticket, where he could alienate the fiscally conservative swing voters who deserted the GOP in 2006.

Pat Toomey argues that Huckabee’s record as governor (he oversaw an increase in taxes, including those on sales, gas, grocery, and nursing home beds, producing a 47 percent overall tax hike) should disqualify him from national consideration. John Fund, who knows Huckabee well, strikes a similar note, and adds that Huckabee, “who was the only GOP candidate to refuse to endorse President Bush’s veto of the Democrats’ bill to vastly expand the SCHIP health-care program” has scant support from Republicans who served in the legislature when he was governor.

Rich Lowry, of National Review, has described Huckabee as a cross between the famous early 20th century preacher Billy Sunday and Ronald Reagan. But with Huckabee’s talk of applied Christianity, the early 20th century figure he most closely resembles is the great populist orator in the cause of Free Silver, William Jennings Bryan. Three times the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” with his blend of fervent but tolerant Christianity, his distrust of the banks, and his economic egalitarianism, was the hero of Great Plains and Southern Democrats.

The migration of liberal, Eastern Establishment Republicans like Ned Lamont and Jay Rockefeller into the Democratic camp has made the modern Dems into the party of a noblesse oblige-accented gentry liberalism that repels upwardly mobile middle- and lower-middle-class whites. But while blue collar religious whites are an uncomfortable fit with the modern Democratic Party, the deeply religious former Southern Democrats who have migrated into the GOP camp make for an uneasy fit with traditional Republican business interests. It’s not surprising then that a new Bryan—of sorts—has arisen to represent an important if relatively recent GOP constituency.

Read Less

Mosques Are Not above the Law

Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.

Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.

At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.

Read More

Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.

Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.

At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.

Such an incident can and does take place regularly at churches and temples in this or any other capital. In the case of a London synagogue, the drunk would not have been able to get past the door: synagogue security is tight, due to the threat of Islamist terrorists and anti-Semitic vandals of various stripes. But if the police had requested access from a rabbi, it would have been granted without question. The same would have applied at most other places of worship.

Not necessarily, however, at a mosque. The British police practically never set foot inside a mosque, for fear of giving offense to the Muslim community.

The exception that proves this rule was the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park. Within a few years of its erection in 1990, this mosque had become associated with radical Islam and became notorious for its one-eyed, hook-handed preacher Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is now in prison for terrorist crimes. In 2003, the Finsbury Park mosque was raided by hundreds of armed police, who arrested several men and found a terrorist arsenal. Those indoctrinated there by Abu Hamza have since been linked to many terrorist conspiracies around the world.

But the raid on Finsbury Park has never been repeated, despite plenty of evidence of illegal activities, such as the glorification of terrorism or incitement to hatred of Jews and “Crusaders,” in a number of other British mosques. Even when a fugitive from justice is believed to be hiding in a mosque or its outbuildings, the police decline to enter.

This wariness about mosques on the part of the British authorities is not only inimical to the rule of law, but also damaging to Muslim interests. Turning mosques into no-go areas fuels suspicions about what goes on inside. Mosques must indeed be treated with the same respect other places of worship are, but they are certainly not outside the jurisdiction of the secular law.

The reluctance of police to enter a mosque actually betrays a dangerous ignorance about Islam. Mosques are modeled not on the Temple in Jerusalem (as both synagogues and churches are), but on the courtyard in Medina where Mohammed preached. They are places not of ceremony or sacrifice. Unlike synagogues or churches, mosques do not have an ark or sanctuary containing sacred objects, such as the Torah scroll for Jews or the consecrated host for Catholics. Islam does not teach that the mosque is a forbidden place to non-Muslims, nor is there a Muslim tradition of giving sanctuary to fugitives in mosques. It is precisely the simplicity and informality of the mosque that has always appealed, to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The novelist E.M. Forster wrote a paean of praise to the mosque in his 1936 collection Abinger Harvest, and in his greatest novel, A Passage to India (1924), he sets the crucial opening scene in a mosque. The Muslim Dr. Aziz is sitting alone in the evening in his favorite mosque, when he notices the arrival of an elderly Englishwoman. Aziz is angry and shouts at her: “Madam, this is a mosque, you have no right here at all; you should have taken off your shoes; this is a holy place for Muslims.” The woman, Mrs. Moore, replies: “I have taken them off.” Aziz begs her pardon and apologizes. She asks whether, unshod, she is allowed to enter, and he says: “Of course, but so few ladies take the trouble, especially if thinking no one is there to see.” She replies: “That makes no difference. God is here.”

This is fiction, of course, and an Islamophile Englishman’s fiction, to boot. In most of the mosques in Britain today (let alone in the Middle East) even a Muslim woman would not gain entrance, let alone a Christian one. As I understand it, however, Forster is correct in his interpretation of Islamic doctrine, at least as Muhammad himself taught it. The mosque is in principle accessible to all, men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, who treat it with due respect.

That ought to include the police, too.

Read Less