Obama Islam hysteria!

Have you heard the news? President Obama is a Muslim after all. I couldn’t believe it, but he must be. I mean, 18 percent of Americans couldn’t be wrong. I can only assume that, two years after I thought this “story” had been laid to rest, that some reputable media outlet finally exposed Obama for the closet Muslim (not that there’s anything wrong with that) that nearly one in five Americans think he is.

They didn’t? So Obama isn’t really a Muslim? You mean there’s some substance to the repeated proclamations Obama has made about being a Christian — or at least there is no credible reason to believe he is exactly who he has said he is not?

I was at first aghast when I started seeing stories about a Pew Research Center study published Wednesday that demonstrated that Americans are still very confused about Obama’s religious beliefs was.

“Still?!” was my reply to the GetReligionistas and how I opened this blog post. Then I remembered an important lesson from an episode of “South Park” about 9/11 conspiracy theorists. (Warning: Some foul language.)

I had to let this piece of criticism germinate as I returned to law school yesterday, and it may have saved me a lot of hand wringing. Because while I was sitting through a handful of classes (entertainment law, copyright and digital wars — oh my!), Slate’s Jack Shafer was doing my job:

Don’t these people read newspapers or watch TV? As a matter of fact, many do. According to the poll, 60 percent (PDF) of those who believe Obama is a Muslim also told the pollsters that they learned it from the media. Seeing as I can recall no major or minor media report that presented proof that would convince any sentient creature over the age of 10 that Obama is a Muslim, I’m starting to feel better. The 18 percenters are imagining things. Non-media sources cited by the poll’s respondents include Obama’s behaviors or own words (11 percent), nonspecific things they’ve heard or read (7 percent), the Internet (7 percent), things heard or read during the presidential campaign (6 percent), Obama’s ancestry (4 percent), and so on.

Unfortunately, the percentage of poll respondents who said Obama is a Muslim and could also successfully define Islam was not on the list of questions. Nor was the question, “If a Muslim bit you on the ass, would you be able to identify his religion?” I’m guessing that the percentage of respondents who would answer yes to either of those questions would be low, as would the percentage who could accurately describe the tenets of faith observed by Muslims.

What we do know from the Pew survey is that beliefs about what religion Obama practices closely track the political assessment of him: About two-thirds of respondents who think Obama is a Muslim disapprove of the job he’s doing as president, while about two-thirds of respondents who believe Obama is a Christian approve of his performance.

As you know, I am a Shafer fan. He has a keen eye for exposing the sordid story behind an exploding story and doesn’t feel the need to just be a contrarian.

And he had a lot of stories, some more breathless than others, to choose from.

The Associated Press had a decent story that gave some context and texture to the American understanding of Obama’s religion. The Washington Post started with an AP-like short news story, and followed that up today with a news feature about Obama’s muted public expression of religion, referencing the church-search ordeal. And a New York Times piece that swears Obama is under intense persecution. Oy gevalt!

But as Shafer points out, this is nothing to set ourselves on fire over. Shafer concluded his criticism, quickly by Press Box standards, by evoking, at least for me, that “South Park” clip above:

I’d be more upset about the Pew poll if a Gallup Poll hadn’t also reported that 18 percent of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth or that only 18 percent of Americans believe all or most of what is published in the New York Times. We can count on stupidity, willful ignorance, and intellectual sloth to plague us 100 percent of the time. All we can do is fight the darkness with light.

Amen, brother. If only there was a lot more light to go around.

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  • kjs

    After all the hoopla surrounding Rev. Wright, I’m surprised so many Americans still believe that the president is a Muslim.

  • J

    I would suggest that a lack of good journalism could be cause for such ignorance in this minority group. Maybe I wasn’t keeping up with things as much during President Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 but I don’t recall a lot of personal details about his life. It seemed that the mainstream were the ones with the stories on Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, etc. I don’t remember learning much about him as a person. What if the press actually did better reporting on the lives (background) of our politicians? I would think an up and coming politician like Obama was before the election, would be a great story to cover in detail. I think Rick Warren’s pre-election summit with McCain and Obama is a good thing to go back to in reference to what Obama believes. I think Obama’s answer was more clear and defined then McCain’s was when the question on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

  • Michael Pettinger

    When Shafer notes that “only 18 percent of Americans believe all or most of what is published in the New York Times”, and then seems to attribute that percentage to “stupidity, willful ignorance, and intellectual sloth,” doesn’t he miss the point? Isn’t the problem here skepticism about the reliability and/or impartiality of the MSM, as represented by the NYT? Journalists can work to shed all the light they want on President Obama’s Christian beliefs — if people don’t read and trust them, they won’t be convinced. And while there might be some truth in the notion that this skepticism is rooted in willful ignorance, there might also be some truth to the notion that such broad dismissal smacks of condescension and journalistic elitism — things that only anger the people who are already skeptical of the media.

    No doubt,journalists need the sort of pep talk Shafer is offering — these are hard times. But the way he describes these people might aggravate the problem.

    And while I wouldn’t put myself in the 18%, my skepticism of the NYT has certainly grown substantially in the last few years — in part, because I read GR. ;-) Could it be that the critical stance prized in journalism (as opposed to the values of humility, trust and “faith”) actually contributes to resistance to the media?

  • Dave

    I would be intrigued by a racial breakdown of the 18%. Do some whites assume that any black who occasionally uses religious language but doesn’t go on about Jesus must be a Muslim?

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    Hi Brad,

    I know of several people here in the Bay Area who are ostensibly Christians but are in fact committed secretly to a sect of Sufism. These are people in positions of religious authority: theologians and priests. They have a secret handshake. So, I know that there are some Muslims who are posing as Christians.

    Therefore, I think you are naive to assume that someone’s stated religion is there actual religion. And I think you are wrong to make fun of people who think Obama may be a Muslim.

  • Martin

    Obama’s actions speak louder than his presumed Christian baptism.

    Can Rev. Wright’s assembly of bigotry and hate be seriously considered a Christian church?

    Can his militant and unyielding support for abortion and artificial contraception be accepted as proof of a devotion to Christ?

    Can his public kowtowing to Muslims be considered acceptable for a Christian man?

    Most people would conclude, as I do, that he is not a Christian. His denomination is “hypocrite”. Others may conclude that he’s a Muslim, although his support for abortion may not be in line with Islam either.

    Either way, he is a secularist using Christianity as a cover.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Martin, if I answer “yes” to all three questions and point out that, historically, your standards are not those of the Christian churches, then what? There are all too many people who can’t really wrap their minds around the reality that the SBC or the Catholic Church do not, separately, own the notion of what a Christian is. The orthodox ontology of membership in the church is that members who behave badly, even up into apostasy, are nonetheless still Christians.

    The persistence with which people cling to notions about Obama’s religion (and birth, while we’re at it) in the face of a complete lack of genuinely corroborative evidence casts doubt on the utility of journalism to do anything positive for a huge segment of the population. People seem simply to be immune to being informed, and I imagine that if CBS telecast video of Obama being baptized, most of those people would claim that it was faked or that he didn’t really mean it so it didn’t count.

  • Peggy

    I think the polling is as it is b/c O’s claims to Christian faith do not match his actions. He is very inconsistent. His detached personality is possibly the real underlying problem he’s having with the American people. The people see this and have doubts, just as they do regarding his citizenship. His detachment from the ideals and value of America shock the average person too. There have been columns in the conservative media about this detachment. I’ve only seen a few MSM columnists raise it, mostly related to his weak response to the failed Christmas bomber, I think.

    He has bypassed prayer day breakfasts; he has put secular groups, pro-aborts on the “faith-based committee” as well as anti-Catholics; the lack of church or regular Sunday worship in some way. O’s claims that the US is not a Christian nation, while technically true, as far as governance is concerned, the US culture is decidedly Christian, and other religious adherents enjoy great freedom here as well.

    In contrast O’s odd favoritism of Islam for NASA, the incorrect claims of Islam’s role in shaping the US, the odd speech in Cairo, the bowing before the Saudi King, the early outreach to Islam after the inauguration. He acts and says things that are different from many Americans’ and Christians’ way of thinking. The full-throated approval of the GZ mosque, which was post-polls, has probably sealed the idea that he’s Muslim to many people.

    Only the conservative media raises Qs about these contradictions in O’s claims v his actions and proclamations. The media didn’t nail this down b/c they didn’t want to encourage this confusion, which might have prevented O’s election. O has himself exacerbated this problem. Fewer people thought he was a Muslim in earlier polls.

    The WH’s answer to the media could have been a description of the faith and devotion of any religious follower, not just Christian.

  • Suzanne

    There is a disturbing double standard here regarding discerning other people’s religions.

    In the case of Christians whom the contributors (and many posters) agree with, we’re supposed to take their word for it — call them what they want to be called, not fundamentalist or evangelical or whatever the hot-button word of the moment is.

    In the case of everyone else, apparently, we get to hold a public referendum on what other people think this person’s religion is. What they believe themselves to be and call themselves makes no difference.

    It’s a puzzlement.

  • Jerry

    Seeing as I can recall no major or minor media report that presented proof that would convince any sentient creature over the age of 10 that Obama is a Muslim, I’m starting to feel better.

    He should not feel better as Republicans are spreading that for political purposes such as the following story about one who implies it by having no position: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/08/20/ohio-congressional-candidate-says-position-obama-muslim/

    And we have Perpetua who makes an unsubstantiated claim that some people are pretending to be Christians for evil purposes and who, gasp, have a secret handshake. Maybe I should claim that some so-called Christians are really devil worshipers who are trying to lead the faithful astray and who conduct black rituals in caves near me and who have infiltrated the Catholic church where they abuse children and lie about it?

  • Bern

    18% seems a little high to me, based on nothing in particular, but let me posit that this is not a journalism issue. It doesn’t matter what some people see, or read, or hear: they are gonna believe just exactly what they want to believe: no more and no less.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    Hi Jerry,

    I am speaking from my personal experience. I didn’t say “evil purposes”. I did say that these are people with professions in Christianity with the implication they have something to lose if their change of religion is revealed. And yes, as ridiculous as it seems, they really do have a secret handshake.

  • David

    The arrogance and condescension of journos like Jack Shafer toward the public are why in no smaller measure the mainstream media are losing their audiences to Fox News, conservative talk radio, and the conservative blogosphere. But far be it from me to interfere. As the saying goes, when your adversary is digging his grave, don’t fight him for the shovel.

  • Ann

    Peggy says:

    He has bypassed prayer day breakfasts; he has put secular groups, pro-aborts on the “faith-based committee” as well as anti-Catholics … the odd speech in Cairo, the bowing before the Saudi King, the early outreach to Islam after the inauguration. He acts and says things that are different from many Americans’ and Christians’ way of thinking. The full-throated approval of the GZ mosque, which was post-polls, has probably sealed the idea that he’s Muslim to many people.

    Obama is the President for all US Citizens. A President cannot impose their specific religious beliefs on anyone. It is unrealistic to expect any President to give preference to those that believe the same as he believes.

    If he had gone to the prayer breakfasts the media and bloggers would have dissected every move and word, such as many of the statements in the above paragraph. Obama’s Cairo speech and early outreach to Islam had specific international goals. One of the goals was to inform those of Islam faith that we are not at war with Islam, we are at war with al Qaeda terrorists. al Qaeda makes claims that the US is at war with the Islam faith as a terrorist recruiting tool. The past week of non-stop is Obama a Muslim that indicates that there is something wrong with being a Muslim, works against Obama’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world to bring peace.

    In regard to the Islamic cultural center that is over two blocks away for ground zero and is not visible from ground zero, Obama was defending the US Constitution as he swore an oath to uphold. I think he also had the same motive of trying to bring peace with those of the Islam faith around the world.

    Obama in Egypt reaches out to Muslim world
    The address, billed as a fence-mending mission between the United States and Islam, urged those present and the people across the globe viewing the speech on television to enter a new, productive and peaceful chapter in their relationship.

    April 6, 2009 8:44 AM
    Obama: U.S. Is Not At War With Islam
    “Make no mistake, though: Iraq, Turkey, and the United States face a common threat from terrorism. That includes the al Qaeda terrorists who have sought to drive Iraqis apart and to destroy their country.”


  • Jerry

    Perpetua, you’ve claimed with no evidence to have witnessed something. As someone who grew up during the end of the McCarthy era and seeing the same kind of innuendo and lies from some in the current era, I am very sensitive to someone making unsubstantiated claims and wonder at his or her motives.

    Aren’t you concerned that Brad, Terry, Mollie and I are secret Muslims who are concerned about our secret coming out and thus gathering evidence against those who know too much?

    See, that’s the problem, I can claim anything I want to and without proof how do you know who we really are and what we really intend. And where does that leave us?

  • Chris

    I suspect many of the 18% think Mr. Obama is Muslim because of his name–and it goes no deeper than that. Similar to thinking anyone with an Irish or Hispanic name is Roman Catholic.

  • David

    A postscript to my previous comment, No. 13, lifted from James Taranto’s column, “Best of the Web Today,” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

    Newsbusters’ Jeff Poor makes an excellent point:

    ‘Every time the question about President Barack Obama’s faith is brought up, the wizards of smart in the mainstream media get up in arms about “right-wingers” or “tea partiers” perpetuating those allegations. But is it possible that by devoting so much attention to these issues of Obama’s faith and his citizenship, the media are creating the very feeding frenzy they’re appalled by?’

    This sounds exactly right to us. The agenda behind these polls, and the liberal media’s reporting on them, is to portray critics of President Obama as kooks and idiots (and, if you’re John Avlon, to peddle books, as we noted in March).

    This strategy is backfiring, and in two ways. First, as Poor suggests, by mainstreaming these supposedly fringe notions. If the idea that Obama is Muslim merits the attention of the august Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the most respected name in news, who’s to say it’s crazy, or even wrong?

    Second, it puts the ugly attitudes of the liberal elite on display, à la Lonesome Rhodes’s open-mic incident in “A Face in the Crowd.” Now we know that James Carville thinks “there are a lot of stupid people out there.” At least those who work in the Obama White House are, for the most part, disciplined enough not to make such insulting statements–as Carville himself was when he worked for President Clinton. Yet when people hear such contemptuous statements from the president’s supporters in the media (as well as from some in politics, most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi), they can draw their own conclusions about what Obama and his inner circle think of them.

    Thus, at a time when the vast majority of voters oppose the president’s policies for any number of legitimate reasons, the media’s self-superior dwelling on “stupid” or “kooky” Obama critics tends to marginalize Obama, not his opponents. Obama’s presidency is being consumed in a bonfire of liberal vanities.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    There was also much media hoopla over bowing to the Heisei Emperor. Does that indicate that he is a secret Shintoist? And hasn’t anyone heard of “When in Rome…”?

  • Peggy

    David makes some good points with that column. The confusion over O’s identity is not limited to the “fringe” on the right. CNN had a recent poll which showed that 15% of Dems doubted that O was born in America.


    What seems to be missing in the analysis is the fact that Obama is the product of the ultimate “mixed” marriage. Isn’t it generally understood that kids from such families might have mixed loyalties and confusion about who they are?

    Obama’s confusion scans many categories of self-identification:

    1. Nationality & Continent: Mom=American from North American; Dad=Kenyan from Africa
    2. Race: Mom=white; Dad=black/African
    3. Religion: Mom=raised liberal Protestant, ultimately atheist (see O’s books); Dad=Muslim

    And O was ultimately abandoned by both parents to be raised by white American grandparents who were progressive Christians, with leftist associates. How can people be sure of who he is when he does not appear to be convincingly one or the other in many regards? His mixed loyalties or affinities are the source of confusion to the people.

    The people have voted for a man who is not only inexperienced and arrogant, but who really doesn’t quite seem to know who he is, where is loyalties lie. It shows in his policies and biases.

    The people have contradictory views b/c he is contradictory.

  • Dave

    Isn’t it generally understood that kids from such families might have mixed loyalties and confusion about who they are?

    No more than it’s “understood” that kids from mixed backgrounds have a less parochial and more cosmopolitan view of faith positions, moral certitudes and can see that the Other is also a person.

  • Peggy

    Dave: Oh, those superior cosmopolitan types from the coasts. Us rubes living in the fields in flyover country. Seriously, of course it’s fine to be exposed to a variety of cultures, religions, etc., but one should also continue to understand one’s family identity and faith and remain committed to it. He has a variety of sets of identities from his parents. Both are him. Being open to and understanding of a variety of worldviews and lacking commitment to a particular worldview for oneself and one’s family are different things.

  • Dave

    Oh, those superior cosmopolitan types from the coasts.

    I live in Ohio.

  • David

    Another good column addressed to the media is, “Let Me Translate: We Don’t Believe Him – or You,” by C. Edmund Wright on the American Thinker website. In the lede, he writes, “Memo to the ruling class media:  We are not ignorant or stupid.  We’ve not forgotten Jeremiah Wright.  It’s not that we don’t ‘know’ what faith Obama subscribes to — it’s more that we don’t believe him.  Or you.  Sorry.  Not buying.” Read more at at http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/08/let_me_translate_we_dont_belie.html.

  • Chris

    Re: Peggy’s comments in #19: I suspect Mr. Obama knows he is. Most people do. In reality, when we become adults we should recognize that all of the adults in our lives lived “contradictions” and were confused in some way. In a religious sense, some of these contradictions are “sins”, and some of them lead to ‘salvation”. His parent may not have known who they were, in that they changed their minds throughout life on what was important and true. I doubt children from “mixed” marriages are any more confused than anyone else. When you consider that biologically, parents are male and female–all other differences pale in comparison :-). I speak from experience.

  • Joe

    Appreciate Jack Shafer’s insight that the American public is gullible and in his words, take it for granted 20% is flat-out ignorant. Shafer is pointing out a real reason why journalism is dieing in the US. The poll about the president’s religion is a roundabout story that there are some pretty dumb folks out there. Why not just report the truth that Obama’s father was a Christian too and that people don’t read the news anymore.

    Shafer is pointing out the failure of journalism to convey comprehension and the failure to tell it like it is, refuting all the nonsense out there, especially about religion. Most Americans are illiterate about religion, ironic with so many considering themselves religious. Journalists need to point out the empty rhetoric of religious illiterates.

  • Lymis

    “I live in Ohio.”
    Which has a coast. You Great Lakes elites!

    I’m unclear why the whole dissection of his background, as though conversion isn’t even a remote possibility for people. In Obama’s case, it isn’t even an outright rejection of all the components of his past, so much as choosing among them, but you would think that it is impossible for an adult to have a religion different from his father’s.

    A significant portion of the people who, against all available evidence, claim that Obama is a Muslim, are also people who feel that the only possible road to salvation for someone raised Muslim would be to convert to Christianity, yet seem violently unwilling to even consider that this is exactly what he may have done.

    It is far more likely that he is a not particularly observant Christian than that he is a secret Muslim.

  • Ron

    The truth is simple: you don’t look at what someone says, you look at what they do. That why Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Looking at what Obama is doing, he is the antithesis of what Christ exhorts. That should speak volumes.

    As for being a Muslim, he is our first Muslim President in the exact same sense that Clinton was our first “Black” President — he favors Muslims both at home and abroad and shuns Christians at every turn.