Editor's Note: In this first of a five-part series, Middle East and Islam specialist Daniel Pipes begins his inquiry into Barack Obama's early Muslim connections by noting the president's autobiographical inaccuracies. Future installments will establish his many connections to Islam.
President Obama has come out swinging against his Republican rival, sponsoring television advertisements that ask, "What is Mitt Romney hiding?" The allusion is to such relatively minor matters as Mr. Romney's prior tax returns, the date he stopped working for Bain Capital and the nonpublic records from his service heading the Salt Lake City Olympics and as governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Obama has defended his demands that Mr. Romney release more information about himself, declaring in August that "the American people have assumed that if you want to be president of the United States that your life's an open book when it comes to things like your finances." Liberals such as Paul Krugman of the New York Times enthusiastically endorse this focus on Mr. Romney's personal history.
If President Obama and his supporters wish to focus on biography, of course, that is a game two can play. Already, the temperate, mild-mannered Mr. Romney has criticized Mr. Obama's re-election campaign as "based on falsehood and dishonesty," and a television ad went further, asserting that Mr. Obama "doesn't tell the truth."
A focus on openness and honesty is likely to hurt Mr. Obama far more than Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama remains the mystery candidate with an autobiography full of gaps and even fabrications. For example, to sell his autobiography in 1991, Mr. Obama claimed that he "was born in Kenya." He lied about never having been a member and candidate of the 1990s Chicago socialist New Party. When Stanley Kurtz produced evidence to establish that he was a member, Mr. Obama's flacks smeared and dismissed Mr. Kurtz. Mr. Obama's 1995 autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," contains a torrent of inaccuracies and falsehoods about his maternal grandfather, his father, his mother, his parents' wedding, his stepfather's father, his high school friend, his girlfriend, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As Victor Davis Hanson put it, "If a writer will fabricate the details about his own mother's terminal illness and quest for insurance, then he will probably fudge on anything."
Into this larger pattern of mendacity about his past life arises the question of Mr. Obama's discussion of his faith, perhaps the most singular and outrageous of his lies.
Asked about the religion of his childhood and youth, Mr. Obama offers contradictory answers. He finessed a March 2004 question, "Have you always been a Christian?" by replying: "I was raised more by my mother and my mother was Christian." But in December 2007, he belatedly decided to give a straight answer: "My mother was a Christian from Kansas. I was raised by my mother. So, I've always been a Christian." In February 2009, however, he offered a completely different account:
"I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion. I didn't become a Christian until I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college."
He further elaborated on this answer in September 2010, saying, "I came to my Christian faith later in life."
Which is it? Has Mr. Obama "always been a Christian" or did he "become a Christian" after college? Self-contradiction on so fundamental a matter of identity, when added to the general questioning about the accuracy of his autobiography, raises questions about veracity. Would someone telling the truth say such varied and opposite things about himself? Inconsistency is typical of fabrication: When making things up, it's hard to stick with the same story. Mr. Obama appears to be hiding something. Was he the areligious child of irreligious parents? Or was he always a Christian? A Muslim? Or was he, in fact, something of his own creation -- a Christian Muslim?
Mr. Obama provides some information on his Islamic background in his two books, "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope" (2006). In 2007, when Hillary Rodham Clinton was still the favored Democratic candidate for president, a number of reporters dug up information about Mr. Obama's time in Indonesia. His statements as president have provided important insights into his mentality. The major biographies of Mr. Obama, however, whether friendly (such as those by David Maraniss, David Mendell and David Remnick) or hostile (such as those by Jack Cashill, Jerome R. Corsi, Dinesh D'Souza, Aaron Klein, Edward Klein and Stanley Kurtz), devote little attention to this topic.
I shall establish his having been born and raised a Muslim, provide confirming evidence from recent years, survey the perceptions of him as a Muslim, and place this deception in the larger context of Mr. Obama's autobiographical fictions.
To begin with, Barack Obama readily acknowledges that his paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, converted to Islam. Indeed, "Dreams" (Page 407) contains a long quote from his paternal grandmother explaining the grandfather's reasons for doing so: Christianity's ways appeared to be "foolish sentiment" to him, "something to comfort women," and so he converted to Islam, thinking "its practices conformed more closely to his beliefs" (Page 104). Barack Obama readily told this to all comers: When asked by a barber (Page 149), "You a Muslim?" for example, he replied, "Grandfather was."
Mr. Obama presents his parents and stepfather as nonreligious. He notes in "Audacity" (Pages 204-5), that his "father had been raised a Muslim" but was a "confirmed atheist" by the time he met Barack's mother, who, in turn, "professed secularism." His stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, "like most Indonesians, was raised a Muslim," though he was a nonpracticing, syncretic one who "followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths" ("Dreams," Page 37).
As for himself, Mr. Obama acknowledges numerous connections to Islam but denies being a Muslim. "The only connection I've had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father's side came from that country," he declared in Dec. 2007. "But I've never practiced Islam. For a while, I lived in Indonesia because my mother was teaching there. And that's a Muslim country. And I went to school. But I didn't practice." Likewise, he said in February 2008: "I have never been a Muslim other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for four years when I was a child, I have very little connection to the Islamic religion." Note his unequivocal statement here: "I have never been a Muslim." Under the headline, "Barack Obama is not and has never been a Muslim," Mr. Obama's first presidential campaign website was even more emphatic in November 2007, stating that "Obama never prayed in a mosque. He has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian."
These emphatic statements notwithstanding, much points to Mr. Obama's having been a Muslim.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.