An Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama

Posted by sepoy on January 25, 2007 · 3 mins read

Dear Senator Obama,

I am writing to you from Hyde Park, Chicago, as your constituent and as a long-term supporter. I admit that I have been severely disappointed by your response to the stories peddled across right-wing sites that you attended a 'Madrasa' in your youth. Ever since the story broke, I had been waiting for your response and hoping that you will lay bare the fundamental prejudice and hatred underlining that story.

Today, I read the response issued by your campaign office and I quote:

To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa.

These malicious, irresponsible charges are precisely the kind of politics the American people have grown tired of, and that Senator Obama is trying to change by focusing on bringing people together to solve our common problems.

I was hoping that the response would not be to proclaim the horror of being insinuated a "Muslim" (Is it really such a terrible shame that one was born a Muslim?). I was hoping that you'd point out that the word "Madrasa" simply means "school". That every school in the Islamicate world has that word in its title - even the American or British. You could have shown them this school in Marrakesh or this school in Doha . You could have refused to further the Islamophobia taken root in American society by stressing your appreciation of the cultural heritage you acquired in Indonesia. You could have simply said, 'While I am a Christian, I resent the implications in being branded a terrorist-sympathizer merely by association with Muslims. There is no direct correlation between a Muslim and a terrorist despite the demonizing efforts of certain groups. One cannot pass judgement on billions of people and their faith without recalling the histories of Jews in Europe or Africans in Americas.'

Instead, your campaign sought to play the defensive card. To stress your Christian creditability and to proclaim a vehement distancing from anything "Muslim". To simply call this story "a malicious and irresponsible charge" at you is wrong. It is "a malicious and irresponsible charge" at the millions of Muslim Americans and billions of Muslims around the world. You may have been the target of this mis-information but the victims are Muslims who must now defend their culture, belief and heritage, while living in America.

This is the state of Islamophobia in America today, where a simple declaration: "He is a Muslim" casts doubts on a Presidential campaign. I hope that you will make a further statement on this issue and lay bare the racist and phobic agendas in news organizations who make peddling such hatred their business.

I wish you continued success in your campaign and I know that I will be working to help you get elected in 2008.



Andrew R. | January 25, 2007

Well, it may be disturbing, but it's sound politics. After all, eventually, the bad guys are going to get through and we're going to have another attack on American soil. After all, they only have to get lucky once, while the FBI and Homeland Security have to get lucky every time. Now then, imagine the aftermath of the attack in a world where Obama had said what you suggest. Imagine Fox News running the images of an Angry Muslim Mob cut to a Mosque cut to the smoking wreckage of the attack while in the background they play the voice of Obama saying, "There is no direct correlation between a Muslim and a terrorist. " Imagine them playing such an image as part of their segment on his being a secret Muslim. It would be bad, bad news, and Obama knows it.

Andrew R. | January 25, 2007

Please excuse my writing "after all" twice in a row. I have my Major Field exam in four days and it's frying my brain.

sepoy | January 25, 2007

Andrew: It would be 'bad, bad news' for Obama if a terrorist attack happens? I'd imagine, it would be 'bad, bad news' for everyone. And, btw, our current President did say exactly that 'there is no direct correlation between a Muslim and a terrorist' directly after 9/11. And good luck with the exam!

Ubaid | January 25, 2007

Andrew, What is the point of an Obama presidency if he wins on the basis of conforming to the establishment or worrying how Fox News will portray him? "You are a Muslim" has become an allegation, a four letter word in American politics and that mental attitude seems to be seeping into our public lives. The next thing I know I'm not being considered for a job or 'am being denied entry into a restaurant just because my name has a "Mohammed" in it. Such behavior is racism, pure and simple. Barrack Obama had a chance to call on this ridiculous stereotyping but he chose to play it safe. I agree with Sepoy, the Obama campaign could have issued a much better worded statement that did not treat the word Muslim as a grave insult.

tsk | January 25, 2007

yeah, i have to go with sepoy and ubaid on this one: his office bungled the situation. rather than taking a stand and calling the echo chamber on their racist bullshit, the office pretty much kept playing along with the status quo and rebuffed this "accusation". just because the political arena is following bullshit rules doesn't mean you have to play by them. letting these jerks frame the discussion and trying to make a point within that framework is what lost the dems everything from '94 onward. (disclaimer: i am of the opinion that the dems won nothing in '06, that the repubs finally screwed the pooch so much for so long that no amount of "¡taxes, gays, and dead babies!" could save them from a 'throw the bums out' election.) obama is in a position where he doesn't have compromise his ideals and stand up for what's right. even if his possible prez run falls short, he still has a job in the senate, unlike edwards. it's not like illinois would vote him out anytime soon. speaking of which, if obama gets the prez nod, who the hell would IL send in his place? sidenote: anybody else get this guy as the voice in your head when reading andrew's post? and, uh, sorry for rambling.

Borat Obama | January 27, 2007

Dear All; I see that some of you are still not jaded by the cynicism current in politics these days, and you do put some stock in my rhetoric. Some say that lack of experience or a "track record" on my part is a likely weakness, and that I am striking a feel good rhetoric without substance or the aforementioned track record. This snafu may be a symptom of my lack of maturity or the hollowness of my rhetoric. But you must believe otherwise. On a final note, I beseech you to continue supporting me (the alternative, after all, is now-I-support-war-now-I-don't-Hillary). I have been consistently against the war, and I believe that to be a reason enough. Sincerely,

Shashikiran | January 28, 2007

Apart from this matter discussed here, I envy you that you have a man like this to root for

Abbas Halai | January 28, 2007

yeah this was a fairly weak response by obama. hopefully in the next two years he redeems himself.

Qalandar | January 28, 2007

Let me add my voice in support of Ubaid's and sepoy's views here. "Better than" the alternatives is not going to be good enough to enthuse me; a response along the lines suggested in sepoy's open letter would have been "pretty damn good". i.e., Andrew R: I don't subscribe to the view that the default condition of the American public is bigotry and that any political strategy must take it as a given. If it were indeed a given, we wouldn't have parties and campaign committees spending quite so much on spin doctors, manipulation, etc. The public is "in play", and if we don't recognize that we have already lost (Exhibit A for "already lost": Hillary Clinton, whether or not she wins the election). One might still lose anyway, but as the character played by philosopher/actor Akshay Kumar responded (to a suggestion that he give up as persisting in the mission with his honest cop-boss), in Khakee (simply one of the best masala Hindi movies in over a decade, for ye unfortunates who haven't seen it): "Main aap ke peeche peeche aaonga; aakhri waqt tak aaonga; lekin aaonga zaroor" :-)

PDCS | January 29, 2007

Sepoy, you are spot on with respect to Obama's response but read Howard Kurtz in the WAPO on the origins of Barack Madrasa story. Opposition research is a cool thing, right? So here is the relevant section: The Washington Times did not touch the story about Hillary Clinton's camp supposedly spreading a rumor that Sen. Barack Obama, her presidential campaign rival, once attended a madrassa, a school that teaches a fundamentalist form of Islam. The paper blew off the report even though it was carried this month by Insight, the Internet magazine owned by the same parent company. Times Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden, calling it a "lurid account," declared in his column that Insight "is absolutely, positively and entirely separate from the newspaper." Pruden quoted from my reports in which Obama and Clinton spokesmen called the article trash, adding: "Neither this newspaper nor most others took up the story, which cited no named sources." Insight Editor Jeffrey Kuhner concedes that "the madrassa angle on Barack Obama had not been thoroughly checked out when we posted our story," but says "our story was about the Clinton camp's opposition research on Barack Obama, which had been thoroughly checked out. . . . The story gave our readers insider knowledge about what is truly going on in the Hillary camp. . . . Contrary to misrepresentations by The Washington Post and CNN, Insight's Obama story never -- not once -- claimed that Obama attended a madrassa as a young boy." The Insight article did say that an investigation by Obama's opponents "has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia." Both the Obama and Clinton camps have dismissed the allegations, and the deputy headmaster of the Indonesian school in question told CNN that it is a public school.

sepoy | January 29, 2007

Only if, you think this is Black Ops.: Karl Rove spreads a rumor that Hilary is spreading a rumor that Obama went to a madrasa. Who gets damaged more? Obama? or Hilary whose campaign is accused of dirty tricks and becomes something akin to Bush '00 campaign [oops!]

We Heart OBaMaRaMaMaMa | February 14, 2007

[...] Valentine’s Day, we’re here to express that, despite concerns about his handling of the whole madrassa issue, and other worries yet to be discovered. So in honor of his dignity, which is being vigorously [...]

abel Oriri | March 05, 2007

Senator Obama is a christian. I am an evangelical christian Pastor in Ohio and happen to know the Obama family because I am related to him. Senetor Obama is a christian and not a muslim. I had answered this question in article which I sent to a Chicago newspaper when he ran for the senate and I thought the issue was settled. Please contact me if you have any question regarding his heritage and intergrity. God bless you Rev. Abel Oriri, Pastor/Christian counselor Heights Fellowship Church Cleveland Ohio

Chapati Mystery A Muslim Like Obama | December 03, 2007

[...] We live in a rumor-based society where spurious flyers can derail campaigns and invented words like “swift-boating” scarcely raise a Colbert eyebrow. So it is no surprise that such internet rumors are given equal credence by the WaPo. The entire story is written with the “he said/they say/people claim” and the denials are restricted solely for the campaign - which “keeps a letter at its offices, signed by five members of the local clergy, vouching for the candidate’s Christian faith” - and for Obama - “If I were a Muslim, I would let you know”. At no point, does WaPo sully itself by actually reporting that Obama is not a Muslim. Understandably, some are upset at the WaPo. [The story itself gained prominence almost a year ago. See an earlier post]. [...]

bob knapper | January 10, 2008

the religious label is importat to the extent it will harm the national interest. being at was in the muslim world and having a muslim in the white house could be some what of a conflict of interest the letter if possible should be forwarded to senator obama. fire you advisors and hire a different group of college men of the 70's and 80's . you can not win with them and you will save your self a lot of pain. the reason i say this racial bais is alive and well. I had a similar experience i wish to share upon arriving in washington dc. I had an issue arise and a white female brought tears to the issue and even though my position was correct . the idea that a minority made a white female cried shaded the result. new hampshire was your to take but not responding to the teaR OF HILLARY with the tears of a OPrah or a non minorty entertainer you were going to lose . a strong black man can not win on the national stage without big name in the business ,sports or entertainment arena speaking on your behalf a loss is inevitable . A win in November for the democart will have to include ex senator Edwards. I have been a closet campaign strategist and I have been on track with most of my predictions

wais | January 10, 2008

Interesting, and good points. But more likely anyone of the mentioned names becoming the newxt President, will be forced to chose will it be Pakisan, or Iran to Bomb next. This the reality, and they don't get the mess they will create and face.

Charlie Clark | February 23, 2008

My brother just told me on the phone from California that "Obama is Muslim, that he won"t touch a christian bible, that he turns his back when we salute our flag, that he won't say the pledge of allegence" is this all true or not? If not we the american people need to know! All the retoric can just leave the conversation. Is the above true or not?

rev. Abel Oriri | March 17, 2008

Sen. Obama is a Christian and not a muslim. I have a better knowledge of the senator's spiritual life than most both as a relative and a pastor of evangelical charismatic church in Cleveland. Please do not hesitate to contact me about Obama's faith.Thank you Rev. Oriri

sophie dominguez | March 21, 2008

dear mr. obama, i immigrated from poland to chicago 38 years ago i am now 48. i was working since i was 15, never stoped working untill i had a injury on the job on 2003, 1 had injured my left shoulder and wright knee, had 4 surgerys , one left shoulder 3 right knee i continue to work, my knee was getting worse each day , doctors told me i need to have a knee replacement feb 28, 04 , i worked all theway through friday 25th of feb 04, unfortunetinelly the surgery did not go well, went back to hospital 2 months later and had my knee bent beacuese it was stiff, then 8 months later i had a revision done on that knee,i developed pain sindrome i been on heavy norcotics since the knee replacement, this is the first time i was not and still not able to work since the knee replacement its been 2 years now, they gone try to put a spinal cord stimulator for the pain i have since the surgery. they dont even know if its gone work, i cant drive beacuse of the heavy murphine i am on. i ve been on worksmanscomp for 2 years now, i went and applied for temporary social security i have been denied twice beacuse they say i could work other jobs then the one ive been doing, which was property manager, condo convirsions, and construction, corporate housing. when i could go back to work i have no clue, at this point i cant even drive i am in so much pain, i limp now beacuse my leg is not straight and i will go for another surgey. i hired a lawyer steve globis to help me with the social security benefits that i had been paying my share since i was fifteen. i got a letter from the social security last year in may 2007 stating they will send me a letter in september of 07 for a hearring date well its been no answer untill now. i read a article in the news paper that the court system is so backed up that it will take untill 18 months !!!!!!! before they will be sending notices for people like me just to get a hearing date, and they told me when i first applied for the system that if i get denied twice i need to get a lawyer which i had no choice but to do that. i am a divorcedsingle mom who been working since i was a teenager who unfortunetely was unable to even finish high school beacuse we were so poor but yet was a hard working person,to raise my 2 boys and give them good working ethics and education by working 2 jobs 18 hours a day.i am very proud that my oldest son at the age of 18 went to the NAVY and still is, started with E1 and after 6 years he is a E6 petti oficer , has a wife and 2 children and finished bachlor degree while he is in the NAVY and working on his MASTERS,my other son who is 23 years old, worked since he was 16 to help me, been going to university to get his bachelors in criminal justice but since i stoped working do to the injury at work i could not help him with the tution,he achived 96 hours and has only 24 hours to go but unfortunetely he cant continue beacuse there is no money, so he decided to follow his brothers foot steps, he will be going to the UNITED STATES COAST GUARD in september, so he can get financial suport for the school. Iam very very proud of them that they want it to achive their goals which is the SCHOOL. my first son is going to be an officer and the younger one wil be going the same direction. beacuswe of the accident i had i couldnt help my boys with the tution they had no CHOICE accept to join the military to get their schooling. and here i am unable to work, unable get help from the goverment that i worked so hard, and lost my boys to the military so they could get education. 1 was on left shoulder and 3 on right knee

Joe | October 16, 2008

enator Obama, I would like to take a minute to applaud your success. Your campaign has succeeded against all odds, and you are truly emerging as the preeminent candidate in this 2008 campaign. Although I am a registered republican, I have a great deal of respect for your candor and your inspiring oratory skills. Though often I do not agree with what you pontificate, I certainly admire your achievements. With that being said, I would ask you to relinquish some of your success to your opponent, John Mccain. It is, after all, in line with your rhetoric. Though John Mccain has not earned it, a number of mitigating circumstances has not allowed for him to ascend to popularity that you enjoy. By any measure you have more success than you really need, so “spreading it around” should not be a problem. I would suggest you start by having your campaign relinquish a percentage of your finances to the Mccain offices. Sending money this way, as your running mate Joe Biden sees it, could even be considered patriotic. Everyone wins right? I appreciate your consideration, and hope that you redistribute some of your wealth and success this campaign season. Best, Joe

Madrasa Madness | Greased Cartridge | May 30, 2011

[...] the Islamopohobia lurking barely beneath the surface. Neither did Obama point out that the word madrasa simply means school, and that many schools in the Islamicate world have that word in its title or are casually referred [...]