Editor’s Note: In this final segment of a five-part series, Middle East and Islam specialist Daniel Pipes looks at Barack Obama’s possible religious syncretism and then draws conclusions from the information presented in this series.
While attending school in Indonesia, Barack Obama famously attended Koranic classes. Less known, as he recalled in March 2004, was his “studying the Bible and catechisms” at Santo Fransiskus Assisi Catholic school. As each of those classes was intended just for believers, attending both was irregular. Several of his former teachers there confirm President Obama’s recollection. Here are three of them on this topic:
Mr. Obama’s first-grade teacher at Assisi, Israella Dharmawan, recalled to Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times: “At that time, Barry was also praying in a Catholic way, but Barry was Muslim. He was registered as a Muslim because his father, Lolo Soetoro, was Muslim.”
Mr. Obama’s former third-grade teacher at the Besuki public school, Pak Effendi, told Anne Barrowclough of the Times of London that the school had pupils of many faiths and recalled how students attended classes on their own faiths — except for Mr. Obama, who alone insisted on attending both Christian and Islamic classes. He did so even against the wishes of his Christian mother: “His mother did not like him learning Islam, although his father was a Muslim. Sometimes she came to the school; she was angry with the religious teacher and said, ‘Why did you teach him the Koran?’ But he kept going to the classes because he was interested in Islam.”
An administrator at Besuki, Akhmad Solikhin, expressed bafflement at Mr. Obama’s religion to an Indonesian newspaper, the Kaltim Post, on Jan. 27, 2007: “He indeed was registered as Muslim, but he claims to be Christian.” (The translation was provided by “an American expatriate in Southeast Asia,” and the quotation was edited for clarity.)
This double religiosity, admittedly, is being discussed at a time when Mr. Obama is an international figure and the nature of his religious affiliation had taken on political overtones. Still, that three figures from his Indonesian past independently made this same point is striking and demonstrates the complexity of Mr. Obama’s personal development. It also raises the inconclusive but intriguing possibility that Mr. Obama, even at the tender ages of 6 through 10, sought to combine his maternal and paternal religions into a personal syncretic whole, presenting himself as both Christian and Muslim. In subtle ways, he still does just that.
In conclusion, available evidence suggests that Mr. Obama was born and raised a Muslim and retained a Muslim identity until his late 20s. Child to a line of Muslim males, given a Muslim name, registered as a Muslim in two Indonesian schools, he read the Koran in religion class, still recites the Islamic declaration of faith and speaks to Muslim audiences like a fellow believer. Between his non-practicing Muslim father, his Muslim stepfather and his four years of living in a Muslim milieu, he was seen by others and saw himself as a Muslim.
This is not to say that he was a practicing Muslim or that he remains a Muslim today — much less an Islamist — nor that his Muslim background significantly influences his political outlook (which is typical of an American leftist). Nor is there a problem about his conversion from Islam to Christianity. The issue is that Mr. Obama has specifically and repeatedly lied about his Muslim identity. More than any other single deception, Mr. Obama’s treatment of his own religious background exposes his moral failings.
Yet these remain unknown to the American electorate. Consider the contrast of his case and that of James Frey, the author of “A Million Little Pieces.” Both Mr. Frey and Mr. Obama wrote inaccurate memoirs that Oprah Winfrey endorsed, and both books rose to No. 1 on the nonfiction best-seller list. When Mr. Frey’s literary deceptions about his own drug-taking and criminality became apparent, Miss Winfrey tore into him viciously, a library reclassified his book as fiction and the publisher offered a refund to customers who felt deceived. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s falsehoods are blithely excused. Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography, admiringly called “Dreams from My Father” “so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.” Gerald Early, professor of English literature and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis, goes further: “It really doesn’t matter if he made up stuff. I don’t think it much matters whether Barack Obama has told the absolute truth in “Dreams from My Father.” What’s important is how he wanted to construct his life.”
How odd that a lowlife’s story about his sordid activities inspires high moral standards while the U.S. president’s autobiography gets a pass. Tricky Dick, move over for Bogus Barry.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.
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