Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Proving my point

Remember when I talked about the role xenophobia was playing it causing some folks to reject Obama and protest the Park51 project? Big thanks (or not) to resident yutz Jonathan Mark at the Jewish Week for being a great example.

Mark had two articles a week ago hammering home the point that Obama was, "at least technically" a Muslim. I can't decide if my favorite part is Mark's total disengenuousness (you can almost hear the Glenn Beck in him shrugging, "I'm just saying, is all,") or the way he uses Obama's parentage to bash Reform Jews on patrilineal descent, which is super-relevant to the discussion because... he decided so?

As an Orthodox Jew, I believe that membership in a religion is not casual but legal, something like American citizenship (if you support the good people of Arizona). You can't just cross the Rio Grande and vote in Phoenix. There is a rigerous citizenship process, a conversion process, or there is Judaism's singular qualification -- being born to a Jewish mother.
But according to my non-Orthodox "Progressive" friends, religion is as religion does, you are what you feel, what you seem, and to the left of Conservative Jews (though surely soon for Conservative Jews, too), you are Jewish if your father was. Intermarried people, technically non-Jews, who never converted, are allowed to participate in the Sabbath services of many liberal synagogues. The Jewish people are filling up with "illegal aliens" given amnesty. Non-Jews claim Jewish credentials by virtue of how they act, not what they actually are.
Wow. Do you work hard to come up with these ridiculous comparisons? Or do they just come naturally after poking your brain with a stick a few times?
There are always stories in the papers about soldiers who've been killed while serving in the Israeli army but who can't be buried in Jewish cemetaries because these tragic soldiers are not Jewish, and therefore must can only be buried in non--Jewish cemetaries. There always follows an uproar from non-halachic Jews -- how dare we not bury them in the cemetaries where they want to be buried after what these soldiers did for the Jewish State!
Boy, are the Orthodox mean. Don't they know that religion has nothing to do with being Jewish?
Boy, your strawman sure is boring. Also, predictable.
By those modern and widespread standards in the Jewish community, where someone's religion is not judged by legality but by feelings and sympathy, then I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that Obama is a Muslim. Sure, he is technically a Christian, I know, he spent more than 20 years in Trinity Church in the pews of his spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the crude anti-Semitic and anti-American friend of Louis Farrkahn. You can't choose your family but yes, you can choose your mentors.
I know, Obama is a Christian by virtue of his maternal family, his mother was a Christian. 
And yet, by the modern Jewish standards of patrilinial descent, no questions asked, no-fault religion, Obama is a Muslim.
Except, not, because patrilineal (actually bilineal) descent in the Reform movement is actually predicated on involvement with the Jewish community. As opposed to traditional Orthodox matrilineal descent, which declares anyone with a Jewish mother Jewish until they convert. But, you know, details aren't really important here, because you're really not interested in them.
He is Muslim by patrilineal descent and what seems to be Islamic halacha.
As an op-ed contributor wrote in The New York Times in 2008, "In Islam, however, there is no such thing as a half-Muslim. Like all monotheistic religions, Islam is an exclusive faith. As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother's Christian background is irrelevant."
There is no provision in Judaism to renounce your religion, either.
Mazel Tov, so we get to include such great guys as Karl Marx, Torquemada, St. Paul and Zola Levitt back in the tribe. Yay?
So Obama is a Muslim because of his father -- patrilineal descent -- is one legitimate "halachic" position, although the topic has become so politicized it has rarely been seriously explored in most newspapers, Jewish or otherwise. 
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it's also irrelevant to his presidency? I mean, isn't doing an investigative report on Obama's "Islamic halacha" status sort of like trying to research what the Houston Astros thought of Bush's ownership style? At best, it's trivia. At worst, it's fodder for a hatchet job. If you think it's so significant, and it's not just about poisoning the well, make the case for why we should care. If you can't, there goes your argument.
The idea that Obama might be a Muslim was so quickly branded a slur by the left and the Obama camp, in particular
Again, no. The right has turned Islam and Muslim identity into a slur. Obama has stood by his position that he does not share his father's religion (which, again, the elder Obama renounced during his life). How is that branding it a slur?
and protecting Obama had become uppermost in the minds of so many journalists, that most Americans haven't been exposed to an intelligent "comparative religion" discussion about this.
What's to discuss? According to you, the facts are clear-cut. You claim that under Islamic law, he is Muslim. He says he does not consider himself Muslim or practice Islam. To date, no one has refuted this. You're suggesting there's some deeper layer going on here. I just don't see it. It would be one thing if he had grown up as a practicing Muslim and then converted, but this is like grilling Abraham Foxman on his Catholic connections based on his childhood experiences in hiding during WWII. Sorry Jon, but there's no "there" there.
The topic is often handled with a schoollyard brush-off, even in usually serious newspapers, by usually serious people: "He's not a Muslim, and you're stupid for saying so."
Let's break this down. If you insist on claiming Muslim connections in absence of evidence as a political cudgel to beat him with, you're not stupid, you're slimy. It IS stupid, however, to continue to beat a story that has no new developments. If he practices Christianity, not Islam, and there's no indication this has changed in the last twenty-plus years, in what way has the story changed? Was he a Muslim last week? Did he sneak into a mosque yesterday when no one was looking?
Yet, for those of us who like our religion discussed at length and with seriousness
Yeah, re-read your hatched job of The Rebbe again and say this with a straight face. I dare you.
what about the assertions in the Times' paragraph? Maybe if the topic was dealt with intelligently and properly -- not politically -- it wouldn't still be an issue going the wrong way in the polls for Obama a full two years later.
What am I missing here? Is there some magical information gap that you're holding out for, some smoking gun that would let you conclusively decide this one way or the other? Or is it that you're waiting for some upstanding journalist to "intelligently" analyze this non-story and make the call for you so you can finally cross it off your to-do list?
And what of the "non-halachic" point of view?
If service in the IDF, or working and living among the Jewish people, is the criteria, Obama had for years lived and studied and prayed among Muslims as a youth in Indonesia. 
Yeah, everyone knows that any praying you do in first grade defines you for life. Duh! Oh wait, three of those four years were in a Catholic school? Hmm. And the last one was an Indonesian public school that gave kids a free period for religious instruction once a week, not a fundamentalist madrassa, as has been claimed? Well... um... quick, look into my Hypno-coin!

And I love the assumption that "serving" one of your constituent groups is the same thing as being a member of that group. That makes sense, just ask House Representative Steve Cohen from Memphis, TN.
By every halacha-be-damned modern Jewish colloquial standard of who is a "member of the tribe," Obama is a Muslim, every bit as much as he is a Christian. 
Uh, except for the whole self-identification thing, which is kind of... what's the word? Paramount.
Two religions are OK in most modern Jewish homes, with Christmas trees and menorahs sharing the same living room, and Obama's childhood living room was both Islamic and Christian. He rejected neither, though Islam became politically inconvenient, which is why he didn't use his middle name Hussein publically until he was safely elected and inaugurated as "Barack Hussein Obama." And that is why the centerpiece of his foreign policy became outreach to the Islamic world while threatening Israel if they so much as built an apartment house in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, while Obama made zero demands on the Palestinian Abbas.
Yawn. Yeah, we know you hate intermarriage, Jon. But even though your paragraph is dripping with that special zesty mix of scorn and bitterness, it still doesn't mean that Obama's a Muslim-- particularly not by Reform standards. Sorry. Using your legal middle name does not mean you're suddenly embracing your heritage. And it seems to me like the actual centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy has been fighting major wars in two Muslim countries. I know you're writing for the Jewish Week and you've got some blinders on when it comes to Israel's significance but come on, man, read the news and have a little perspective. Israel has not been Obama's number 1 priority, positive or negative.
I'm not the only one who sees this. An increasingly number of Americans do, as well. WIth the end of legalistic standards of identification within almost all ethnic and religious groups, Americans are figuing, yeah, this guy sure seems like a Muslim.
Especially when they can say stupid crap like "seems like a Muslim" without any need to justify their remarks or define their terms. By the way, Jon, did I mention you "sure seem" like a slice of toast? I mean, you're both brittle, pockmarked, high-in-fiber...
Americans are a practical people. If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck...
But spent 4th grade in a special school that gave it two hours of platypus instruction a week, and it hasn't called for platypus genocide yet, and its middle name is "Beaver-like tail", it must be a damn platypus sleeper agent. Clever bastard.
...Sixty percent of those who say Obama is a Muslim said they came to that conclusion through the media, the overwhelmingly liberal media.
Wait, the same liberal media that has banned all discussion of the topic and surrounded Obama with a "ring of propaganda"? You're a journalist and you don't see any contradiction here? Wow. Look, either the propaganda media is criminally incompetent or the public believe what they want and make up rationales later.
The people see and hear Obama in action, with 11 percent being more specific, saying it is not the media as intermediary but they figure Obama is a Muslim from his own "words and behavior," reports Pew.
Yay, more cryptic allusions. What behavior would that be, incidentally? All his praying to Mecca, perhaps? His demand that the White House only serve halal food? No? Oh, the fact that he's perceived as tough on Israel. Oh-Kay. Didn't realize George H.W. Bush was a Muslim. That explains a lot. Or, then again, not.
Are Americans really as stupid as some politicians, Jewish leaders and journalists would have you believe? How is it that the more Americans know about Obama, the more Americans think he is Muslim?
I'm going to say the old-timey winning formula of xenophobia, ignorance, fear, and manipulation by bullshit artists? Also, consider the counter-argument: by your reasoning, the only way the 20% can be right is if the other 80% is wrong. So who's calling who stupid?
Many Americans grew up with the old Lenny Bruce routine on "Jewish and Goyish."...By Lenny Bruce standards, we can say that Obama is as Islamish as lime jello is goyish.
You can SAY whatever you want, Marky. If you're going to claim you have proof, though, you kind of need to show your work. Right now you've got a middle name, a year in a school in Indonesia, an ex-Muslim atheist absentee father, an apathetic Muslim step-father, and a coolness towards Israel (read: settlements). Hardly a slam dunk.
Of course, as a Jew who respects halacha and the legal codes of other religions, I know full well that Obama is a Christian by matrilineal descent, that he was raised in a two-religion home to understand and love both Islam and Christianity. He probably tilts toward Islam now because perhaps he resents how for so many years, fighting to reach the top, he could only admit to Christianity, forced by politics or (a lack of a courage) to deny his father. Now he is a free to be as he chooses.
Oh good, you've gotten your telepathy implant. Guess what I'm thinking of your argument right now. Hint: It rhymes with "wool-schmidt".
My non-Orthodox friends who have drummed it into my head that a Jew is anyone who sort of seems like it, halacha and technicalities be damned, so I'm increasingly of the belief that, yes, Obama is a Muslim -- actually, like many children of intermarried parents, he is both Christian and Muslim. There have been numerous articles in Jewish papers regarding Chelsea Clinton's marriage to a Jew, and how Jewish that child might be, even if that child is officially a Methodist.
In a very real sense, Obama is that child. Like Chelsea's child, the father looms. 
Except, in a more, actually real sense, Obama is not a child, but a grown man, who has chosen his own identity. You happen to not like it because it interferes with your political narrative, so you're portraying him as a Muslim converso. It's an entertaining narrative-- in a kind of Tom Clancy meets Dan Brown meets Glenn Beck sort of way-- but you're basically combining the barest of facts with the laziest attempts at psychology. You might as well write a column-- hell, make it a book-- about how Teddy Roosevelt was "totally" a zoophile (the pieces all fall into place!). I mean, have fun and all, but don't act like you're proven some profound point.
OK, OK, Obama's a Christian, please don't waterboard me, I'll confess. I'm not saying Obama prays to Allah, eats Halal, or is in any way a religious Muslim. Hardly. But I've been taught by my Reform, Secular and intermarried friends that a Jew doesn't have to believe in God, or daven, or eat kosher, or be in any way observant, or even have a Jewish mother to be Jewish.
First of all, I call BS on these alleged non-Orthodox friends. Something tells me you made them up. Second, you're conflating several different groups and their different criteria to be Jewish. In all cases, the primary issue is self-identification. That doesn't exist here, except in your mind

Despite sounding tremendously satisfied with his lack of hard work, Mark must have still been a little worried that he hadn't convinced all his readers. So the next day, he brought out the big guns: historical comparisons! With that most famous quasi-Jew, Benjamin Disraeli!
Benjamin Disraeli was born of a Jewish father but was baptized and had a Christian upbringing, joining the Church as an adult. The prime minister didn't practice Judaism.
Barack Obama was born of an Islamic father but, after some grade-school Islamic education, had a Christian upbringing, joining the Church as an adult. The president doesn't practice Islam.
...Benjamin Disraeli has an entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica. Why? How is he a Jew? Why is he so often spoken of as a Jew? Yet no one is called "stupid" for calling Disraeli a Jew. People are called "stupid" for calling Obama a Moslem.
Never mind that AFAIK Disraeli embraced his Jewish roots, whereas Obama has framed his Islamic heritage as part of a larger multicultural narrative, or that in Disraeli's time Jews were unpopular but not being actively accused of being a traitorous fifth column to the British commonwealth in the way that plenty of people (including mainstream folks in positions of power and prestige) are doing that exact thing to Muslims. Mark can't be this stupid, which means he's trying to be coy.
Obama is no less a Christian than Disraeli was a Christian.
On the other hand, how is Obama less a Muslim than Disraeli was a Jew? Why is it a crime to think of Obama that way when we speak of Disraeli that way?
Who said it was a crime? Oh right, no one. The issue is that Obama's enemies are using "Muslim" as a way of poisoning the well and painting him as a foreign agent who wants to destroy the country. They have turned it into a slur,not unlike "Communist" during the Red Scare. How are you framing the question? Who's asking, and in what context? Those are the real issues. Why are you so invested in proving Obama's Muslim-ness?

And again, why should how we talk about Disraeli be the prime criteria we use with Obama? Who's to say Disraeli would have wanted to be as fetishized as he has been by the Jewish community anyway, considering he lived his life as an Anglican? Why use one example of lazy labeling to justify another?

Sorry Jonathan. Try again. This time, preferably using your brain.

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