Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ahhhmm, But Maybe He is an Arab…(Updated October 29, 2008)

This is how the New York Times wrote up yesterday’s kerfuffle at the McCain rally in its print Saturday edition:

Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Mr. Obama because he was an “Arab.”

Mr. McCain replied: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about.” (He did not correct her false depiction of Mr. Obama) At that, the crowd applauded.
But on the NYTimes’ website, which I assume is the more updated version of the story, the same paragraph ran without the words in brackets: (He did not correct her…)

Hmmmm, is the NYTimes hedging its bets on this whole Arab ancestry thing?

While I applaud Senator McCain for not allowing “Arab” to become a pejorative term (…after all, I am half an Arab myself), I find Senator Obama’s embarrassment at his possible ancestry a little offensive.

Here’s where the whole Obama’s “Arab ancestry thing” comes from:

-Obama’s grandfather hailed from Kenya's eastern region, where a Somali-speaking minority lives. This minority is Sunni Muslim and considers itself Arab. (Pssst, completely unsubstantiated: some claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad through his grandson, Imam Hussain!)

-Somalia, Kenya’s neighbor to the east, is a charter member of the Arab League.

-“Grandma Sarah”—the lady characterized in the press as Obama’s grandmother—is not actually his biological grandmother. She lives on the shores of Lake Victoria (in Kenya’s western region) and she is, like most of the Kenyans in that area, of the Luo ethnic group.

-According to the Egyptian ‘tabloid-ish’ press, Obama has a half-brother living in Cairo who’s been trying to claim Egyptian citizenship on the grounds that he’s ethnically Arab. (Updated, October 29, 2008: this story turns out to be BS. It seems to have originated from a piece of satire written by the Egyptian editor of Al-Dustour, Ibrahim Eissa, in which he imagines what would have happened had Obama had an half-brother growing up in Cairo.)

-While visiting Kenya in 2006, Obama insisted on traveling to an obscure village in the Somali region of Kenya. That’s where he was photographed in the local Somali dress of the people. I believe Obama insisted on going there because he’d heard that this village was his ancestral home, and he was duly welcomed by the village elders as a returning son. (Updated, October 29, 2008: this village would be the Wajjir area of eastern Kenya.)

Obama, during his visit to Kenya's east

So, these are the points that someone in the press needs to follow-up on, preferably before the election. This could all be a wild goose-chase, but since there are some folks out there (such as myself) who believe it, isn't it worthwhile for the press corps to travel to Kenya (don't forget your work permits!) and get to the bottom of this story, if only for the satisfaction of proving loons like me and that woman asking the question wrong?

Why is this relevant?

Well, Obama is supposed to be making history as the first African-American contender for the presidency. If the above is verified, then Obama would still be making history, but this time as the first Arab-American contender for the presidency.

There are seven Arab countries in the African continent: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. But African-Americans have a different opinion about the ethnic Arabs their ancestors had encountered: it seems that Arabs accounted for a large proportion of the slave-traders. So this whole Arab thing may not go down well with them.

Oh, and elderly Jews in Florida will freak out too.


It seems that the New York Times distorted McCain's response in its print edition by claiming that "(He did not correct her false depiction of Mr. Obama)". If you watch the video of what happened (AP video link) then it becomes clear that McCain did in fact tell the lady asking the question that she's wrong about Obama being an Arab, twice.

The NYTimes story was written by Elisabeth Bumiller and Adam Nagourney (contributor), and if you look back at the stories that this pair have written so far this election season, you'll find plenty of subtle narratives undermining McCain. (Thanks KL for catching this)

But that would mean that McCain allowed "Arab" to stand as pejorative term, and he only absolved Obama of this particular accusation! Bad McCain! Bad McCain! (...But I still luv ya!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

McCain's philosophy is clear-cut: criticize, but don't demonize.

It is unfortunate that criticizing Obama is immediately labeled by Obama's surrogates as 'racism'. What I find interesting about your comment is that some Americans are still unsure as to what Obama's 'race' is supposed to be.

10:18 AM, October 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a comment to " Journalistic ‘Integrity’ 101: How to Drown-Out the Good News from Iraq", I downplayed the likely effect of the news (if it ever becomes news!) that Obama is probably more Arab than African (of course, he's more White than either of those...).

And I will think that among Jews in general, a revelation about his Arab heritage might be a net plus, as long as they are reassured he is pro-Israel.

But...perhaps I spoke too soon.

Behold The Great Schlep, a project that "aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor.". They have their own web site at


Comedienne Sarah Silverman is personally involved in this effort. She has posted a comedy bit on YouTube urging people to participate:


She is normally quite funny, if you like dry humor. This video is not her best work. Worse, it is clearly designed to appeal exclusively to the grand-children. Any grand-parents who watch it will likely be put off by the tone of snarky sarcasm. Furthermore, the video suggests, none too subtly, that visiting your grand-parents is normally to be avoided, except when you want something from them (like their vote). Silverman seems to assume that the typical Jewish retiree in Florida is an unrepentant racist who would dismiss Obama out of hand without giving him due consideration. Perhaps she is making a confession?

Florida in 2000 was so unbelievably close, people have convinced themselves that even unusual and poorly thought-out ideas are worth it on the chance they turn a few votes. But I have a hard time imagining that the sort of person to whom this video appeals, will have much luck parachuting into Florida and convincing their tragically un-hip grandparents to get with the programme.

The home video I want to see:

Grandparent 1: "That's nice, dear"
Grandparent 2: "Quiet you two! Jeopardy is about to start.
Grandparent 1: "Of course, you'll stay and watch with us?"
Sarah Silverman: "..."
(cue Jeopardy theme music)

So, is this Schlep just a gimmick, or does the Obama campaign have polling that indicates there is a problem with Florida's elderly Jews?

10:52 AM, October 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are bombarded with polls every day but there is one poll question that I have not seen yet and it should go to Obama supporters:

Which item best describes your decision to support Senator Barack Obama of Illinois for the presidency?

a) Making history as the first African American president of the United States.

b) More capable of fixing the American economy.

c) Will make a better commander in chief.

I bet you that an overwhelming majority will pick (a).

Obama's record and past aren't relevant issues for most of his support base. Only his skin color is. In a nutshell is the reason Obama beat Hillary Clinton.

12:12 PM, October 11, 2008

Blogger Obama - The Dange said...


The global virus of racist Arabism has claimed/claims millions of victims, it includes:

Kurds (under Saddam or Syria), Berbers, Jews (inside Israel - the genocide campaign since the massacre in 1929 by the Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini until today, or in the Arab world or on 'Arab street' in Europe, etc.), Africans (genocide in Sudan, oppression in Egypt, Slavery in Mauritania, etc.)...

2:31 PM, October 11, 2008

Blogger Don Cox said...

"Arab" may not be a pejorative word, but since 9/11 it has certainly been a vote-losing word. ______ Obama is half European. Why do we not see black Americans accusing him of being white?

4:01 AM, October 12, 2008

Blogger Jillian said...

@Milton, ridiculous. I don't give a crap what Obama's race is. I support Obama primarily because of his stance on foreign policy. Period.

12:53 PM, October 12, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on, this is ridiculous, Somalis are not Arabs, they don't even claim to be, being a member of the "Arab League" doesn't define your ethnicty.

The stupid woman just confused "Muslim" for the word "Arab".

1:34 PM, October 12, 2008

Blogger Iraqi Mojo said...

But he's not Muslim either.

2:57 PM, October 12, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardsless of what his lineage is, what he will do is use the useful idiots then discard them, rather like the Dems true attitudes towards the poor, and those African American's still mired in the Dems urban plantations.

Oh, and he will continue to set records for earmarks, and payouts to his friends.

I almost feel sorry for you Obamamites, despite the smug, proto-fascist behaviour. You are in for the most crushing disappointments of your lives. And after it's over, race relations will be set back decades, maybe not to find their way back.

10:15 AM, October 13, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter what his actual race is. Having black skin in America is supposed to expose you to America's racism. As a person with black skin, Obama shares that experience with other Americans with black skin.

I really don't want him to win because I think the world is way too dangerous a place for us to be putting in the affirmative action candidate.

However, the one bright spot will be that we can finally begin to get past this "racist America" crap. Hopefully, we can recover from his presidency more quickly that we recovered from Carter's.

2:21 PM, October 15, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Or it could go completly the other way with "race"* relations, with the difference being...whites will really stop giving a shit about being called racist altogether, maybe even come back with "so what if I am?".

And ya know what? I think it may already be happening. Don't look for polls, but this smug yuppie lawyer and his condescending wife playing the race card every damn day of this campaign, and the excesses of his followers are already wearing out the rug. Too bad. It will hamper the campaign of every minority candidate for some time, including a GOP favorite - Bobby Jindal, the GOV of LA.

Politics. The systematic organization of hatreds.

*I don't even believe there are separate human races, and I challenge anyone to disprove it.

5:33 AM, October 16, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...



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