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Obama's Apostasy?

In today's New York Times Edward Luttwak has an op-ed piece on the significance and possible peril of Senator Obama's conversion to Christianity. He writes:

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 mothers Christian background is irrelevant.Of course, as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He chose to become a Christian, and indeed has written convincingly to explain how he arrived at his choice and how important his Christian faith is to him.His conversion, however, was a crime in Muslim eyes; it is irtidad or ridda, usually translated from the Arabic as apostasy, but with connotations of rebellion and treason. Indeed, it is the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder (which the victims family may choose to forgive).

The piece raises three questions for me:1 Does Luttwak give a fair representation of Islamic law in the matter?2. Does Obama's conversion have implications for relations with the Islamic world?3. Does Obama have a Muslim Advisory Council?

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I sure hope the Times did their due diligence on this one, because I don't think Luttwak has it right. Two issues that receive insufficient discussion are the age one must have been a practicing Muslim before no longer practicing and then renouncing Islam can qualify as apostasy. If Obama was not a practicing Muslim well before the age of say 13, I really think is is a non-issue, but Luttwak's piece will certainly convince many that it is.Second, the discussion suggests that Islam is a monolithic entity, and it is not. It is a religion that seeks unity, but in reality is quite diverse. This law in Islam, if I understand it correctly, is rooted within the lives of individual Muslim groups (not that I support the law), and, in order for it to be relevant to Obama, he would have had to be closely related to the group that would then seek to enforce the law. This second condition also does not seem to met by Luttwak's presentation.This is going to set off a storm. But my sense is that it will be a storm of misinformation creating very false conclusions.

Joe,Thank you for starting the discussion by speaking directly to the issues (not always a given on threads). I appreciate the qualifications you suggest, and would be interested in further insights into the questions raised.

One more thought: Obama has traveled the world and Africa as a U.S. Senator. If this was a legit concern, one would certainly have thought it would have come up by now.

This does seem to be a lot of mischief-making by Luttwak. Especially given that upwards of 15 percent of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, and GOP loyalists are doing everything to reinforce that false impression. It will undoubtedly get uglier. Witness McCain's effort to wrap Obama in the bloody flag of Hamas. Even the likes of Rod Dreher found such behavior "slimy." http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2008/05/ok-yes-mccains-being-slimy....

Knowing Luttwack's politics I was surpised to see this in the Time's this morning (his previous writings tell me he is among the thousand-years-in Iraq men and a McCain supporter). It's full of innuendoes of the sort that came with "Obama is a Mulsim!" e-mails some months back. Surprised to see it in the Times, I was appalled to see its shabby insinuations posted here at commonweal.org What exactly was your purpose in posting it Bob?

Peggy,Presumably thousands of "commonweal.org" subscribers and readers also read the Times daily, and will have reactions of one sort or another to the op-ed published.My "purpose" (which you seem to suspect as sinister) was to elicit some reasoned thoughts about the op-ed: favorable, unfavorable, neutral. To that end I tried to direct the thread by posing some questions.The first comment was, in my view, helpful and illuminating. I would still like to be further informed about Islamic law on the matter, which also has implications for ecumenical dialogue.I do not find your own attack-mode insinuations particularly helpful or illuminating.

The real story, and so blogworthiness, here may prove to be that this piece got into the NYT. If it turns out that Luttwak has it very wrong, the reality is that the piece making it into the NYT Op-Ed will seem to give it the status as a legitimate concern since it comes from what is perceived by many as the newspaper flagship of the political left. Luttwak's errors will be far less relevant than where he got to print them.

Apologies for the multiple posts on this, but in addition to Luttwak's piece showing up in the NYT, we also had Joe Lieberman noting on CNN this weekend that it is not good enough for Obama to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization. What matters is that a Hamas spokesperson said that Hamas would welcome an Obama presidential victory.http://tpmelectioncentral.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/05/lieberman_obamas... is getting about as politically clever as suggesting someone has been supported by communists.

Bob, attack mode? I think I asked an honest question of you. And what do you write? That you posed some questions.1 Does Luttwak give a fair representation of Islamic law in the matter? Since Luttwak is not an Islamic scholar how can he have? 2. Does Obamas conversion have implications for relations with the Islamic world? This assumes that Obama converted from Islam. How can you assume so? As I recall from his autobiography, his mother's family were Baptists from Kansas. If he had any religious upbringing at all, I would have guessed it was Baptist since he spent so much of his life in his grandparents' care.3. Does Obama have a Muslim Advisory Council? You mean to go along with his Catholic Advisory Council? And then there's your headline: Obama's Apostasy????I don't think, Bob, your purposes were sinister. But these don't seem to me to be honest questions.

I thought it was Diogenes who scrutinized the hearts of men to see whether their questions were honest or dishonest (or was that "The Shadow?").1. Can only "experts" get it right?2. More specifically, is he right about this: "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 mothers Christian background is irrelevant"?3. No, to advise about Islamic law and its implications. I'm not sure what the function of that other Council is.I think Joe Petit is right that an interesting feature about all this is how and why it got into the Times. And I presume that all right-thinking Commonwealers will immediately turn to the "Letters" section of tomorrow's Times. I further presume that, since I seem to be the earliest rising among such, I'll get there first.

Another example of "fueling outrage?"And the campaign is hardly revving up yet.

There is no "Universal Muslim Law" in the sense that Luttwak is claiming. There is no Muslim "Magisterium". There are different Islamic sects with different laws and customs. These sects themselves have regional differences and within the regions themselves there are class and education differences. Then there are differences between mosques within areas that are otherwise rather homogenous in those ways. In short, in regard to "Universal Muslim Law", Muslims are quite like Christians and "Universal Christian Law".Luttwak is coming from the same place as those people who will pull out some atrocity that some crazy backward person does and then say "See? See what Muslims are like?"But while Luttwak may even actually find some Muslim knuckleheads who will agree with him, a more important point is, why should we care what some foreigners think about our president? Surely the Republicans of all people should be all right with that question.

The hearts of men, like the hearts of arichokes are inscrutable. But the minds of editors are always asking: Why? And is this true? And what's the point? Perhaps what you need Bob is a good editor.And further, you need not wait for tomorrow's letters in the Times; their comment section has a goodly number of comments.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read Luttwak's piece this morning. There is no evidence whatsoever, of which I am aware, that Obama was EVER a practicing Muslim. Luttwak joined the club of those who snidely include his middle name or, as Hillary Clinton did some weeks ago, state that Obama is a Christian "as far as I know." to make inferences that can scare people whose knowledge of Islam is minimal to non-existent, other than the events of 9/11. Luttwak's entrance to this sorry club comes with his wishy-washy clause "...as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim." Shame on The New York Times for publishing such a screed!

I dont think we have too many experts on the Islam faith on this blog, Bob. I suggest that since you are a professor in the theology department at B.C. it would be very simple for you to contact Professor James Morris, a professor in your own theology department at B.C. He seems to be quite the expert on the Islam faith and certainly would want to clear up any misconceptions that are being floated about that may or may not be motivated by a political agenda. I would say that since your sole intent is to learn, then you should contact an expert in the field. Other wise, you are only going to get opinions, and you know how that can generate into an us versus them mentality. After all, we Catholics would never want to be seen as causing friction that can deteriorate into hateful emotional responses that further the seeds of distrust, even among ourselves. . If you dont know him, this is good chance to form a relationship with someone who would be very interesting to know. Maybe you could have him post the answers to your question on the Commonweal blog . If not, then you can forward his answers to us and we can all learn without prejudice here is his background. He seems to be pretty well qualified to answer your questions. James Morris:EDUCATIONUniversity of Chicago, B.A. in Civilizational Studies, 1971.Harvard University, PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1980.Other graduate studies: Casablanca, Morocco; University of Strasbourg; American University of Cairo; Iranian Academy of Philosophy; Center for the Study of Civilizations, Tehran.BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARYPrior to joining Boston College, Professor Morris held the Sharjah Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, and he has taught previously at Princeton University, Oberlin College, Temple University, and the Institute of Ismaili Studies in Paris and London. He has served as visiting professor at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris), University of Malaya, and University of Sarajevo, and he lectures and gives workshops widely throughout Europe and the Muslim world.TEACHINGEncountering the Quran: Contexts and ApproachesMystical Poetry in the Islamic HumanitiesProphetic Tradition: Exploring the HadithRemembrance of God: Liturgy, Devotion, and Spiritual Practice in the Islamic HumanitiesPathways to God: the Spectrum of Islamic TheologiesIntroduction to Islamic Philosophical TraditionsThe Religious Quest: Comparative PerspectivesPROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIESProf. Morris serves on numerous international editorial, consulting, and examining boards in his fields, and he is currently president of the Rumi Institutes international advisory council, honorary Life Fellow of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arab Society, member of the RAE national panel for Middle East and Islamic Studies (UK), former national board member of British Institute for Middle East Studies, as well as a longtime member of the Socit Asiatique (Paris), Middle East Studies Association, American Academy of Religion, Society for Iranian Studies, American Oriental Society, Socit Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences et de la Philosophie Arabes et Islamiques, British Institute for Persian Studies, and the British Association for the Study of Religion. See Personal Website link for additional details.SELECTED PUBLICATIONS AND PRESENTATIONSHis most recent books include Knowledge of the Soul (2006); The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn Arabs Meccan Illuminations (2005); Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilisation (2004); Ibn Arab: The Meccan Revelations (2002); The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue (2002), and several website volumes. See Personal Website link for a detailed list of other publications, upcoming public appearances and workshops, research projects, and forthcoming books.

Dear Ms Dugan,Undeterred by the sarcasm, I came upon the kernel of a good suggestion. I have e-mailed Professor Morris who, as you rightly state, is an expert in the field. I will faithfully convey whatever response I may receive.Thank you for the generous, if lengthy, plug for B.C.'s stellar Department.

The intensity of this discussion heated up fairly quickly. Im wondering whether we can dial it back a bit.One of the ongoing frustrations of Obama supporters is how the issue of Obamas relationship (I dont know what else to call it) to Islam has been used by certain Republican operatives to discredit him in the eyes of some voter groups. This does appear to be having an impact. Having said this, I tend to think that anything that runs in the New York Times is a legitimate topic for blog commentary. Whatever what might think of his opinions (including whether those opinions are grounded in facts), Luttwak is hardly a right-wing hit man. If his thesis was true (and I am not yet convinced) it would at least be interesting to ponder the implications. I would also say that Obama himself has put his heritage in play because he has bound his personal story to his political argument. Indeed, his unique background is one of the things I like about him and I do believe that it could be an asset in his presidency.I will say that I probably would not have used the word conversion to describe Obamas relationship to his Christian faith in this context. While I think it is true (and Obama has written about this) that Obama did have a conversion experience that led him to embrace Jesus Christ, the use of the word conversion in this context suggests that he was converting from Islam to Christianity. While this may or may not be true in the eyes of Muslim law (again, I need to be convinced), it is certainly not true in the sociological sense in which most Americans understand the concept of conversion. One of the things I have learnedbut continue to forgetwhen I am writing on-line is that it is extraordinarily difficult to convey tone. Those of us with an ironic sense of humor are used to altering our tone of voice to make clear when our statements are being made partly in jest, even if there is an underlying seriousness to our point. Time and time again, I have had folks interpret my on-line statements as being made far more forcefully and seriously than I intended. Obviously, it is my responsibility to know this and to adjust accordingly. I also think, though, that I need to be aware of this in others and read more charitably.

Clara--We're in the blogosphere for goodness sake, where every poster is automatically an expert!Look at all of the theology topics that come up on this blog, yet I'd hazard a guess that the views of professional theologians are but a small percentage of posts on some very complicated and thorny issues. While it would be nice to have people with specialized knowledge joining the discussion about a controversial issue, I don't think there's anything wrong with the rest of us leaping into the fray. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think Fr. Imbelli made any missteps in starting a thread about Luttwak's op-ed piece, which, as already noted, has generated many responses at the NYT. The op-ed will likely be in the news cycle for several days to come, so why shouldn't it be discussed and dissected here?

The Times publishes William Kristol. This does not give him more credence nor does it justify relating some of his truly obnoxious views. It is absolutely untrue that anything the Times prints on its op-ed gives it legitimacy. Just as Commonweal does not approve of every post or thread here.

Whoops, forgot one final point I wanted to make.While I strongly agree that a respect for truth demands that we respond critically to assertions that Senator Obama is a Muslim, I think we need to be careful about how we do that. I suspect that most of us here at DotCom, at least, do not think the fact that a candidate for office is a Muslim should be a disqualification for office. I do worry about what the already beleaguered Muslim community in the United States must think when they see Republicans spreading rumors that Obama is Muslim and Democrats responding with, in essence, "how dare you suggest such a thing!" I suspect I will be accused of political naivet for this view (wouldn't be the first time), but I think that some degree of finesee is required here.

Luttwak's interesting claim is that a child of a Muslim father, even if the father has renounced Islam, is considered to be a Muslim under Islamic law and practice. This would mean, for instance, that the children of the Italian journalist whom the Pope recently baptized,--if he has any--would be considered Muslims even if they had never themselves practised Islam. I hope Professor Morris can throw some light on this subject.

While awaiting any insights BC's Professor Morris may decide to share, I decide to turn to the reigning champion of expert advice on the web. Yep, that's right, Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostasy_in_IslamActually, the Wikipedia entry for apostasy in Islam provided some good background IMO.I also found an interesting ruling by a secular court in Egypt that upheld the right of Christian converts to Islam to revert to their Christian faith:http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/ruling-against-islamic-law-on-conversio... Egypt had a Sharia legal sysytem, the result might have been different, but, at a minimum, there does not appear to be, as Luttwak states, a universal Islamic proscription on conversion from Islam.

"Luttwack is hardly a right-wing hit man." Neither, I suppose is Joseph Lieberman.On Luttwak:Edward Luttwak is a CSIS senior associate and has served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, and a number of allied governments as well as international corporations and financial institutions. He is a frequent lecturer at universities and military colleges in the United States and abroad and has testified before several congressional committees and presidential commissions. Luttwak is the author of numerous articles and several books, including The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire (John Hopkins, 19762005); Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy (HarperCollins, 1999); The Endangered American Dream (Simon & Schuster, 1993); and Coup detat (Harvard, 1985), which has been published in 14 languages. Luttwak serves on the editorial board of the Washington Quarterly and Geopolitique (Paris). He received his Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University, and he speaks French, Italian, and Spanish among other languages.From: http://www.csis.org/component/option,com_csis_experts/task,view/id,109/His most famous (or in some circles infamous piece of writing--until this morning): Give War a Chancehttp://www.ciaonet.org/olj/fa/fa_99lue01.html On Liberman:http://tpmelectioncentral.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/05/lieberman_obamas...

Peggy:When I used the term "right wing hit man," I was thinking more along the lines of someone like Richard Viguerie, the conservative "direct mail" king and his Internet-age progeny. There is no question that Luttwak (apologies for the mispelling) leans to what we generally perceive as "the right" on matters of foreign policy, although it is ironic that his views on humanitarian intervention (he's against it as I understand it) would actually argue against the Iraq war as it was actually executed. My recollection is that he also been, at least in the past, a supporter of disengagement from Iraq. On the conservative spectrum, he seems more associated with the "national greatness" perspective (remember that debate?) than neoconservatism or economic libertarianism. So he's a bit of an odd duck, which makes him at least interesting to listen to.The comparison with Lieberman's comments on Hamas is an interesting one, but I think there is a difference. Lieberman was suggesting that Hamas likes Obama because his foreign policies would be supportive of Hamas' aims. This really is guilt by association and factually incorrect to boot. Luttwak was arguing that Obama's background may not be as much of an asset as some might hope. I think that is probably true, although not for the reasons that Luttwak states since I think he is probably wrong that Muslims around the world view Obama as an apostate.People other than Luttwak, of course, have suggested that those who believe that Obama will be able to "rebrand" the United States overseas are likely to be disappointed. While Bush's arrogance and personal style have certainly made our relations with other countries a lot worse, much opposition to the United States is based on our policies rather than the individuals who hold the office of the president. I have a lot of hopes for an Obama presidency, but I also have great concern that the hopes of some are outpacing what is likely to be achieveable.

Nice try, Peter. And I do agree that inflated hope talk must ultimately suffer the pin prick of reality--for all of the candidates. As I have made clear here and there on this blog, I think Obama will have an up-hill fight as the Democratic candidate and perhaps even more so as president in carrying out many of his campaign promises. But smearing him with the the brush of radical Islam (McCain and Hamas, Lieberman and Hamas's endorsement, and then this--which is not a smear of the same sort, but a fear-mongering effort to raise the Islam connection and threats of his assassination should he ever venture into a Muslim country). Of course, I have no proof that Luttwak is part of a Republican smear campaign, but reading it in the paper this morning, I was appalled and horrified that he wrote it and, even more, that the Times published it. If it is a story with a real news basis, they should have put a crack reporter on it and gotten to the bottom of it. On the op-ed page written by a man with no apparent credentials it looks like the page was run by dead-heads this week-end.And then, to find it on the CWL blog in such a display of apparently innocent inquiry, made me think that Bob Imbelli is either a total naif (which I doubt) or ingenuous. I'm sure he'll get back to us with an answer.

As far as I can see, Luttwak's main point is that Obama's ties to Islam through his father aren't going to be much help to him in dealing with Muslims. Big deal.The piece seems to be more remarkable in perpetuating stereotypes about Muslims, i.e., that they want to kill everybody who's not a Muslim.Re Wikipedia mentioned by William Collier: It's OK if you want to look up, say, the names of the movie stars in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, but most reporters are not allowed to use wikis and blogs as authoritative sources. If my students hand me stories in which Wikipedia is cited, I require them to corroborate the information with two other credible sources. They hate me for it, but there it is.

Friends, I just got off the phone with my friend and our interfaith partner here in Detroit, Imam Hassan Qazwini. Imam Qazwini, you may recall, was one of the three Muslims who gretted Pope Benedict at the interfaith gathering at the John Paul II Cultural Center during his recent visit. He is very active in local, national and international interfaith efforts, in particular as a member of the USCCB's Midwest Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which is co-chaired by our auxiliary bishop, Francis Reiss (I am the assistant advisor for ecumenical and interfaith affairs for the Archdiocese of Detroit, and work closely with both Bishop Reiss and Imam Qazwini.)The imam laughed when I asked if Barack Obama was considered an "apostate Muslim." "Obama was not a Muslim to begin with!" he exclaimed. He went on to say that most American Muslims would probably "prefer this 'apostate' to Mr. McCain" and laughed again. Although "technically" a child of either a Muslim father or mother would be considered a Muslim, since Obama never identified publicly as a Muslim (Obama's father died when his son was two years old), "there was nothing to convert from" the imam said. Since Obama never claimed to be a Muslim, he could not renounce a status he never held. Imam Qazwini said that Luttwak's intent must have been "wicked" to promote such views.

Dishonest questions; total naif or ingenuous (not much choice there); in need of a good editor -- if that's not "attack-mode," I'd hate to be the recipient of the real thing.Back to the message and not the messenger.My colleague, James Morris, was kind enough to reply at length to my e-mail and gave me leave to relay what I think most pertains to the "discussion" here:""Whether, how, and through whom and in what ways this or that ruleror other group has decided to give weight to different specialists in thatdiscipline has always been a complex, constantly varying local matter,reflecting the balance of local customs, political (including especiallyintra-Islamic ethnic and sectarian), and other pertinent social realities,etc. This has rarely been conceived or perceived by most actors as what wewould all normally understand today as "law" of any sort--not least becausethe "authority" of this or that set of interpreters and disciplines isalmost entirely self-appropriated, and in tension with a wide range ofalternative socially effective interpretations; and because there is noestablished higher institution of "enforcement"--since almost all the topicsin question are described by the Qur'an as being "judged" and enforced inthe spiritual world or "next life". "He adds, by way of elucidation, that the implication in the article would be:"the exact equivalent of his taking this or that opinion of one of the majororthodox grand rabbis in Israel and claiming that those personal opinionsare a "Jewish law" that is authoritative and incumbent upon all people ofJewish ancestry and identity, both within and outside Israel. Except thatthe historical diversities and contexts and actual degrees of accepted"authority"--present and past--of the discipline of fiqh are infinitelygreater than with Talmudic and rabbinic halakha; while their ostensibleroots in Islamic scripture are also vastly more tenuous and controversialthan the relation of halakha to the written Torah."In my understanding Professor Morris' view is that any claim to "universal Muslim law" in the matter is invalid.

Jean--I was posting with tongue in cheek about Wikipedia. I would never cite it as authoritative, though it can sometimes be a place to start and to gey ideas for where to go for information that is authoritative. And I enjoyed the "Lord of the Rings" poke in my cyber-ribs. :) Though I should warn you that this is NOT the thread for expressing irony or for comments that might be misinterpreted. But at the risk to myself of expressing such a comment, I will say that there have been some things said in this thread that seem uncharitable to me, and that, upon reflection, posters will wish they hadn't said.

I completely agree with you, Mr. Collier, that blogs are the number one place for giving opinions. I think that seems to be the fun part of it, but, also, I think, a problem for blogs. In my very humble opinion the I am an expert and not you has create serious problems for the Catholic Church. As you said, on theological questions, everyone thinks theyre an expert in every conceivable field. They seem to think they are particularly gifted in assessing the moral guilt of any educational program or public leader and they soundly condemn whoever disagrees with them. Although not on a blog, even a columnist for a sectarian newspaper feels he has the right to publicly condemn an archbishop. In my opinion, that is undermining the magisterial authority of the church. By insinuating that the archbishop doesnt know what hes doing, or, that the archbishop is not really a good catholic, the accuser actually diminishes respect for the church in the eyes of its members and in the eyes of the world. I will concede that you may be right as far as my comments on Bob Imbellis post. However, my opinion is that when you ask very specific questions, and expect factual answers to those specific questions you need someone with knowledge of the subject. My first assumption was that they must have Islamic scholars in the theology department at prestigious B.C. and why in name would Bob ask those questions on the blog, when he should know it will probably set off acrimonious remarks? Finally, I dont think the New York Times article asked specific questions looking for answers and given their circulation there may be experts who can respond effectivly

William Collier, you have no idea how many months I've waited for an opportunity to drag LOTR back into the line of fire, however circuitously and in pretended ignorance of your obvious ironic reference to that site.I will say, as the Obama apostasy question swirls around us, that "The Golden Compass" trilogy was even WORSE than LOTR for causing sheer boredom of the mentally incapacitating variety. And I truly hope you disagree because this will give us another field on which to play literary gotcha.

Recognizing that those who might give credence to the Luttwak piece are unlikely to vote for Obama in the first place, I think it should be pointed out that this is no minor screw up. In fact, the Times may very well wish, or perhaps should be asked, to explain itself.Perhaps certain dotCommers who have been known to write great pieces of wisdom regarding religion in this same periodical might pass on the sentiments of some of us at dotCom that we would prefer more Steinfelsesque pieces and fewer Luttwakian ones.

Not long ago, an Islam scholar at Fordham sent me an email (on another topic) that mentioned "There have been some interesting items in recent months about Barack Obama as Muslim. Those who have signed on to the latest 'Islamofascism' trend have argued that Obama is actually an apostate, since he was born a Muslim and then 'rejected' Islam for Christianity. As an apostate, he is thus vulnerable to all the shari'a laws regarding apostasy (which would make him a target, especially as President, for fanatics)."My reply to her dismissed this as "people's endless capacity for perverse mischief." So now I ask myself has the Times Op-Ed page fallen for "perverse mischief" Has the Commonweal blog? I've already asked my scholar friend for her view -- the end of the semester her, unfortunately, not being the best moment. While waiting all the scholarly judgments, here are my other thoughts. Has Luttwak, in her words, signed onto the "Islamofascism" trend? I don't know. My reading of him over the years leaves the impression of a very hard-boiled Likud strategist, with a maverick moment here and there. Should the Times have printed this Op-Ed piece? Opinion columns do break news, in this case the "news" that Islamic law makes Obama an apostate. But there have been cases -- I recall one right away -- when the Times decided that the responsible thing to do was not to run an Op-Ed piece but assign a reporter to finding out the facts of the matter. We are being naive if we don't acknowledge being in highly inflammatory territory here. Was it ok in the days when Joe McCarthy was riding high to repeat charges about people being Communists and then innocently ask, Is it true? Or leave it to others to deny the charges as though the whole controversy would not leave a residue of disloyalty? That's my concern about the Op-Ed page's responsibility. It's especially the case since the piece did not come from a recognized Islamic scholar or a person whose track record suggests more solicitude for Obama's safety or for healing wounds with Muslim public opinion than for engaging in brass-knuckles Mideast politics. I can't figure out Bob Imbelli's take on this -- or put it out of my mind. His first question seems straightforward. His second seems to take Obama's "conversion" not just to Christianity but from Islam to Christianity as a factual baseline, when that presupposes an answer to the first question. But it is his third question that really puzzles me. Is this really just asking whether Obama has good advisors on Islamic matters like shari'a? Or is it a joke spun off from the fuss about Obama's Catholic Advisory Council. It is the latter possibility that makes me wonder whether there is a playing light with potentially inflammatory rumor-mongering here. By and large, motives shouldn't matter in our discussions: maybe only the Shadow knows what really lurks in the hearts of men. But in some instances, we are compelled to make our own best judgments. By the way, while I was writing this, my Fordham scholar friend wrote back: "Thanks for bringing this [the Luttwak article] to my attention. . . . I am totally shocked. I think you are absolutely right in that a reporter should have been assigned to research the topic. To simply make these kinds of sweeping generalizations about apostasy in Islam is irresponsible, especially when made by someone who seems to know very little about Islam and its history."

Didn't anyone read the Muslim responses to the pope's Easter Vigil baptism of the formerly-Muslim journalist earlier this spring? They said the issue was not his conversion, but rather the way in which his anti-Muslim statements were being promoted. Did anybody carry on about apostasy? No. Death sentences? No. I'm just astonished that the worst possible scenarios no matter how unlikely, such as those raised by Luttwak, continue to get press, and to seem plausible to the American public, and nothing anybody can say to the contrary gets the slightest attention.

In terms of my own assessment, I'll say that I immediately assumed that the third question was a joke for precisely the reasons that Peter describes. It's fairly common around here for posts to refer back to previous posts, humorously or not.

I'm nobody among the Catholic heavyweights posting here, but my advice would be to shut this thread down before Screwtape gives his daily report to "Our Father." Things have become just too personal IMHO.

Luttwak says that because Obama is an "apostate," this "would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries" and would "compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad." He goes on to say--astonishingly, in my view--that this "is not likely to be a major factor with American voters, and the implication is not that it should be." If he's correct--and I think he isn't--why in the world wouldn't or shouldn't it be a major factor?What Luttwak is saying in the Times was being said months ago by people like Daniel Pipes. See, for example, http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=656B62BA-7A61-4DF8-B...

If you google "Obama on Apostate" you will find that this is old news and has been out there for awhile and apparently most have gotten over it. The TV news does not seem to have bit on it this evening. So what gives? All the more curious why the Times would have found this pertinent today. Must be the preponderance of op-ed bits. Or have the blogs given the op-ed that much competition? The blogs have been called the new 0p-ed. En masse that is.

I have a couple of comments for mr. Nixon, whose opinion I usually respect deeply.I think most of the folks who post here have sufficien tgravitas to express there views and I onlyget my hackles up when they profess to be "expert" in areas they are not or merely repeat without substantiation a point they're making.I also think folks may offer a theme or view wth some humor, bu that humor is also mixed with a perception that clearly comes with it. I think that's part of the issue here and some of the gentle (in my opinion) heat -and there's nothingw rong with such heat -it's part of the reason we blog (as long as with a modicum at least of gravitas.)

I don't know, Bob. Did we really need to bring a Ph.D in here to prove that Islam isn't some sort of monolith? Doesn't anyone know anything about them at all? Or aren't we even charitable enough to consider that they may suffer from the same sorts of dissension and divides that we do (who really do inhabit a monolithic religion)?

Ali Eteraz over at Huffington Post debuknked Luttwak. The editorial judgment of the Times is certainly becoming squirrelly.

Pat Lang's site was busy on the subject yesterday. If anyone has the strength to pursue this further, here's the link:http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2008/05/luttwak-and-o... of the comments are from the perspective of people interested in the Middle East and its politics.Since the Times printed no letters on the subject this morning, here is the link to their selection of 12 comments out of 368.http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2008/05/12/opinion/12luttw...

Terri Gross's guest on "Fresh Air" today discussed Islam in Iran and made it quite clear that Islam is not a monolith. The discussion offered lots of insights about various Muslim sects. Also touched on American responses to Muslim nations. Sounds like Hillary Clinton's vow to retaliate against an Iranian strike against Israel is of more concern than Obama's alleged apostasy.However, I didn't hear the whole thing, just the last 20 minutes or so after class was out. The program will be archived over on npr.org. Select "Fresh Air" from the pull-down menu.

[...] opinions from five experts on Islamic law, Hoyt has answered many of the questions that were discussed on dotCommonweal last month after the Luttwak column was published in the Times op-ed pages. He [...]

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.