11 July 2007

Obama, Islam & The West

Newsweek: Black & White: How Barack Obama is shaking up old assumptionsReligion, as everyone knows, is a big deal in American politics. Which is why Barack Hussein Obama might be just what the world needs as successor to George W Bush.

Described as "a liberal's liberal" and "way to the left of the repositioned Mrs Clinton," the media has understandably latched onto the question of race and asks whether he could become America's first black president. However, the question of faith is equally interesting. For, although he is a committed Christian, as is indicated by his non-Western names, he comes out of a Muslim background. Last October he wrote in a piece called "My Spiritual Journey" in Time magazine: "I was not raised in a religious household ... In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology." So, like the vast majority of the world's Muslims, it may be a nominal Muslim background. Nonetheless, Muslim it is — as is evident from his 1996 biography, Dreams from My Father, which describes how his father was a Muslim, he was raised by a Muslim stepfather, and his first two years education was at a Muslim school. To any orthodox Muslim, that makes him a Muslim — and, as a professing Christian, an apostate Muslim, at that.

Just as Obama is quick to reject any suggestion that his campaign represents "an easy shortcut to racial reconciliation," neither does his candidacy promise any swift solution to the problem of radicalised Islam. However, it does offer him a unique opportunity to reach out to moderate Muslims, who represent the majority within Islam, and invite them to affirm article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief."

Writing "The next president" in the current issue of The Difference, Michael Veitch concluded, "Whichever candidate ultimately ends up in the White House, the sort of relationship they choose to forge with Britain and the rest of the world promises to be a spectacle no less fascinating than the election itself." Taking a personal stand against the kind of rhetoric we have heard preached even this week by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's deputy, over "apostate" Salman Rushdie's knighthood, may not win Barack Obama the American presidency, and would almost certainly make him the prime target of Al-Qaeda's hatred, but it would go a long way in helping draw a clear distinction between the radical and the moderate sections of the Muslim community.

As this week's Newsweek notes, "From his earliest days as a politician, Obama has made a career out of reconciling opposing sides." Having consistently opposed the Iraq war, he might be uniquely placed to help reconcile Islam and the West.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant - John has summarised the situation in a most helpful way. Christopher Catherwood, author of A GOD DIVIDED and of A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST.