At a time when America's reputation among Muslims is extremely low, would the upbringing of Barack Obama — the son of a once-Muslim Kenyan father, a child who spent four years in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather — bridge the suspicion and misunderstanding dividing America and the Muslim world were he elected president? Or would he be viewed abroad as a Muslim turncoat?
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argued that, "As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood." Therefore Obama's embrace of Christianity was apostasy, "the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit," Luttwak went on. "This 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."
Some Obama supporters have been making the opposite case, and in a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic, Obama himself acknowledged, "It's conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, 'This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he's not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush.'" That, he said, is "a perfectly legitimate perception," adding that it should not obscure his "unyielding support for Israel's security." Who is right about the role Obama's heritage may play in world politics?
Mark Meigs, professor of history, University of Paris 7 (Denis Diderot): Luttwak dwells on that heritage, looking, oddly, through orthodox Muslim eyes, and he wants us to fear what he sees. He seems to both disapprove of Obama for relinquishing the religion that his father abandoned, and to feel sorry for Obama and for all Americans, for the risks of punishment by Islamic extremists.
The implication of Luttwak's article is that Obama himself shares some of the excessive qualities of Muslim extremists and that we should fear him, too. (International Herald Tribune)
Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies, Hartford Seminary: Luttwak speaks of an essentialized Islamic law that does not exist. …
There is no dispute among Muslims that Islam is not an ethnic affiliation, nor is it passed through the gene pool. A Muslim parent is morally responsible for raising his or her child within Islam; children, for their part, have no legal culpability. There is no legal obligation by a child to affiliate with the Muslim community.
Islam does not consider Barack Obama ever to have been part of the Muslim community. Apostasy has no relevance here. (Letter to the editor, The New York Times)
Stuart Koehl, research fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, the Johns Hopkins University: All of the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence are unanimous in determining that under Shariah, a man who abandons Islam in word or deed should be punished by death. …
Luttwak is merely stating the obvious when he notes that Obama is likely to be seen as an apostate in radical Islamic circles and that this could cause difficulties in our relations with some Islamic countries. (The Blog, WeeklyStandard.com)
Daisy Khan, executive director, American Society for Muslim Advancement: Innumerable contemporary Muslim jurists understand the issue of apostasy differently from their predecessors. …
The first step to enhancing relations with the Islamic world is to recognize the diversity of thought within Muslim communities around the globe and to commit to engagement with Muslim nations as full partners, not irrational actors driven exclusively by their religion. (On Faith, Washingtonpost.com/Newsweek)
Andrew Sullivan, columnist: I'm just glad that the meme that Obama is still a Muslim is no longer currency in informed circles. Luttwak's point would still hold, of course, if enough Muslims believed it. And the level of paranoia and stupidity in some areas of the Middle East eclipses that in Harlem or West Virginia. But what can anyone do about people willingly believing demonstrable lies? (The Daily Dish, TheAtlantic.com)
Augustus Richard Norton, professor of international relations and anthropology, Boston University: I have been struck by the profound disappointment that United States policy typically evokes among old and young, including ultrapious and lax Muslims. These people do not see Mr. Obama as a lapsed Muslim but as a potentially empathetic American leader who grew to maturity as a Christian.
Moreover, most Muslim scholars apply the epithet "apostate" to adult conversion from Islam to another faith. (Letter to the editor, The New York Times)
Col. W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. military intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces: Are Americans to allow Luttwak and people like him to influence their choice of president on the basis of a denial of religious freedom by people who generally have no use for freedom of choice in anything? (Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008)
Juan Cole, professor of history, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: It is just so discouraging that such an ignorant and illogical comment was made by a prominent American pundit, and that The New York Times lent its pages to this complete drivel. …
Luttwak has no doubt been misled by some Salafi, modernist-fundamentalist fatwa, which departs from the great Islamic legal traditions, and he has mistakenly taken it to be representative of Islamic law. … To characterize these minority traditions or idiosyncratic views as representative of Islam as a whole would be like declaring Pat Robertson's interpretation of Christianity more legitimate than that of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Informed Comment)
The Blog, WeeklyStandard.com
The Daily Dish, TheAtlantic.com
International Herald Tribune
The New York Times
On Faith, Washingtonpost.com/Newsweek
Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008