At this, half the audience grew restive. What these people thought they heard me say was that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Now angered by my ignorance and insensitivity, they perceived me as a “birther” who hadn’t the sense to recognize that our president is a Christian.
Barack Obama is indeed a Christian, but that does not preclude his being kindly disposed to Muslims. It must be remembered that his father was a Muslim. To be sure, Barack senior was not very observant; nor was he present to raise his son. Nevertheless his offspring had to be aware of, and respectful of, his father’s religion.
But more than that, Barack’s stepfather was Muslim. So is his sister. In fact, Barack spent many of his formative years in Indonesia associating with Muslims and going to school with them. Indeed, this is where he came to the conclusion that the Muslim morning call to prayer is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.
Nor did his ostensibly Christian mother or grandparents do much to counteract this influence. While they wanted Barack to identify himself as an American, they were not religious people and hence did not press a Christian point of view upon him.
Is it any wonder then that when he came of college age many of Obama’s closest friends were Pakistanis? He socialized with them, he roomed with them and he travelled to meet their families in Pakistan. In truth, it was only when he decided that this association would not be good politically that he cut them out of his life.
Christianity did eventually enter Obama’s life-space — but as a calculated decision. Having come to the conclusion that an American black could not succeed in politics unless he was a Christian, he sought out black ministers to provide him with a religious education once he moved to Chicago to become a community organizer.
Incidentally, he chose Chicago because it had a black mayor and therefore appeared to be fertile ground for his ambitions. If this seems cold and calculating, I submit that our president’s political career is replete with evidence of how cold and calculating he can be.
In any event, it was no accident that once in office, he used the bully pulpit to extol the virtues of Islam. He did this in Cairo, in Indonesia, and at the United Nations — where each time he insisted it was a religion of peace. All of this was presumably intended to lessen international tensions, but it was likewise in harmony with his sentiments.
Why does this matter? Why can’t Obama be as approving of Islam as he desires? The answer is that Islamic terrorism remains with us. We have seen it in Benghazi, on the streets of Cairo, and in the violence in Syria. We have especially seen its potential in the nuclear centrifuges of Iran.
Now the Middle East is a tinderbox. Enemies who no longer feel restrained by American power surround Israel. At this point it is difficult to know where events will lead — but a general war is not out of the question.
Meanwhile, on the home front, liberals feel more sympathetic toward the Palestinians than the Israelis. Kim Kardashian discovered this when she tweeted that she was praying for Israel. As a result, she was immediately attacked and instructed that she must pray for the Palestinians instead.
Under these circumstances, where do Obama’s loyalties lie? No doubt, he will be constrained by the political realities of our nation. Nonetheless, what he will do when under fire may be influenced by longstanding patterns of thought and emotion.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D., is professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.