Don't tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov

Monday, January 7, 2008

He's B-L-A-C-K!!! Flagrant Fearmongering and/or Covert Racism

I tend to ignore email letters offering me information I might not know on a particular person or subject. I read and research just about everything that interests me, and find that I know as much or more about most topics that make the rounds. Today I decided to glance through a letter about "Obama's Church" to see what possible spin there could be on his house of worship. After stumbling through a half-truths and claims that had already been proven incorrect, a blatant lie jumped out at me.

“Barack Obama’s middle name is Mohammed”.

I realize that his true middle name "Hussein" has its own negative connotations. I guess the letter writer decided that "Mohammed" sounded even worse. But more about that in a minute.

I read both of Obama’s books long before he entered the Presidential race. With the Michigan primary just a week away, I have to admit that I have not yet decided who I am voting for. I continue to read a wide variety of news sites, web sites and watch political programs and C-Span regularly. I want to vote for the person who will win, and win big.

I wasn’t surprised that the email letter was about Barack Obama. After his win in the Iowa caucuses, he would be the number one target of misinformation from his opponents.

I have thoroughly researched the letter’s claims.

Please forward THIS to anyone who has sent you such misinformation.


Unfortunately, his middle name of Hussein has a negative ring because most Americans associate that name with “Sadaam”, rather than with former English soccer star Yasser Hussein.

We don't chose our middle names. His father was an atheist, his mother a white woman from Kansas not affiliated with any organized religion. I tried to envision how this name might have been chosen back in 1961. Perhaps she chose it from a baby name book. At Baby Name Facts
the name is given Arabic origins with the meaning

“beautiful, doer of good deeds, a descendant of the Prophet”
She hardly could have known the negative ring it might have for her son forty years later. But apparently, as I mentioned, not as negative as the one the letter writer made up for him instead.

(I was also surprised to learn that it is among the top six hundred baby names in the last decade in such countries as Norway, Sweden, and in Southern Australia).


Most of the email letter deals with aspects of Obama’s supposed religious beliefs.

“…Doesn't look like his choice of religion has improved much over his (former?) Muslim upbringing.” and …”And possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today….”

In his book, “Audacity of Hope” Obama states that his mother was very spiritual, but not affiliated with any organized religion. That his father had been born a Muslim in Kenya, but was already an avowed atheist when he began attending school Hawaii. In other words, his dad was not a practicing Muslim when he met his mother. In any case, his father was a distant, absent figure throughout most of Barack’s life. He was raised by his white mother and her parents.

The "Muslim Schooling" story was raised (and proven incorrect) in the media about two years ago. Barack's mother remarried an Indonesian, and took Barack with her to Jakarta, Indonesia when he was six years old. He lived there for four years. He mentions in his book that his mother also home schooled him to supplement any gaps she felt existed in his Indonesian education.

For the first three years he attend a private Catholic school. In the fourth year, he attended a public school. A school application incorrectly listed his religion as "Muslim", perhaps because his step-father was a Muslim (although non-conforming/practicing). The same application listed Barack's nationality incorrectly as "Indonesian". In any case, the public school offered religious education to both Christians and Muslims as part of their curriculum, then and now.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a visit to the school in 2005 showed that even today, in a country that is heavily Muslim, there is open teaching of other faiths.

Weekly religious classes are required for all students, whether Muslims, Christians or Hindus, under the government curriculum. A new shiny mosque is in the corner of the courtyard. "The Muslims learn about Islam, prayer and religious activity," said Hardi Priyono, the vice principal for curriculum. "And for the Christians, during the religious class, they also have a special room teaching Christianity. It's always been like that. We are a public school. We have always been a public school."

In the same article, there is a quote from the Protestant headmaster of the school who arrived shortly after Barack left.

"I was really trendy, for example, no sleeves, and miniskirts," recalled Tine Hahiyari, 78, a Protestant who was the school's headmaster from 1972 to 1989. "When I taught sports, I wore shorts."

Therefore a letter describing his upbringing as “Muslim” and the implication that he is somehow a ‘covert Muslim’ is incorrect.

The same letter attacks the church Obama attends, the Trinity United Church of Christ in South Chicago. The letter claims that the church’s website describes them as a

church that has “…a non-negotiable commitment to Africa.” It also claims that “Obama’s loyalty is totally vested in Black Africa!”

It’s rather an amazing leap when you study the website. The ‘commitment’ is mentioned as one of ten points describing this church’s vision. When you read their Pastor’s statement, it is clear that they accentuate the cultural ethnicity of the black experience. He states

“Black liberation theology defines Africans and African Americans as subjects – not the objects which colonizers and oppressors have consistently defined “others” as. He also says: "African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior."

I have to admit I’m not sure what I am supposed to fear about a commitment to Africa. Is it supposed to imply that if Obama becomes President he will devote all resources of the United States to Africa?

It made me think of the 1960 election, when John F. Kennedy had to deal with fears that the Vatican would run the United States if he became President. Is the letter writer somehow implying that “Africa”---that homogeneous mixture of countries (many racked by civil wars, poverty, and corruption) would somehow unite into one voice and ‘order’ President Obama around?

Perhaps I should just be grateful that the letter doesn’t emphasize his “Catholic” upbringing with dark hints of ties to the Vatican.

I believe that the letter is covertly racist. The letter claims that you have to be

(and they wrote it like this)


to join Obama’s church. I read over the church's site carefully, including the area for new member applicants. Nothing mentioned a racial requirement. I assume that the writer leaps to this conclusion because the church website accentuates their ‘black pride’ and mentions the word ‘black’ a lot.

I’m not sure that there are any white applicants clamoring to join this church in Chicago. Undoubtedly there will be some during this politically charged Presidential race.

No one gets worked up over “Polish Catholic” “Macedonian Orthodox” “Greek Catholic” and other ethnic churches that are clearly maintaining cultural, ethnic, and probably personal ties to churches in Europe. But this email letter writer seems to find it alarming that:

BLACK people are proud of being BLACK people

and have strong interests in their AFRICAN roots!

I don’t know why that is scary. But I’m sure that must frighten some people, or the letter writer wouldn’t have bothered.

Obama’s church is affiliated with the “United Church of Christ”. This is a huge Christian denomination that belongs to the World Council of Churches. Trinity United Church of Christ is part of a mainline denomination. It’s Pastor has tremendous credentials. He has been recognized around the world for his writing and preaching. I believe that their message is being misinterpreted by the email letter writer, either deliberately or through ignorance.

I could do a whole essay on true racial openness among Christian congregations. It could include lots of examples of a lack of ‘integration’ in various communities. However, that is beside the point.

If you read the website, and any of the writings of the pastor, you will quickly learn that that picture painted in the email letter of an “alarming” church is blatantly false. It is a respectable, reputable church with a large community outreach. How sad that the focus is not on the good Christian things they are doing.

As I mentioned, I’m sure this is just the beginning. If Hillary wins in New Hampshire tomorrow, I’m sure some anti-Hillary letter will be circulating in a few days. If Barack wins again, the next letter will just be uglier and more insidious. Edwards and Richards will offer more of a challenge. Although I’m sure their enemies already have a treasure trove of ‘Hispanic” and “Rich White Guy” letters ready for emailing.

When you receive an email like this, you can break the cycle by researching the falsities first before passing it on. Then again, if you don’t have the time or inclination---send it to me---and I’ll look for the truth.

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