Rep. Steve Cohen’s overwhelming 79-19 victory in Tennessee’s ninth congressional district Democratic primary has got to warm the cockles of even the most cynical journalistic heart. Nikki Tinker’s race- and Jew-baiting ads, designed to encourage voters in the majority-black district to choose one of their own, backfired with a vengeance, as Americans’ rosiest accounts of ourselves say they should have. It did seem that Cohen was headed for a big win regardless. A native Memphian who served many years in the state senate before being elected to Congress, he ran by all accounts an excellent campaign, and was well funded. Tinker was something of an outsider, born and raised in Alabama, and her ads were considered acts of desperation.
WSJ’s got the story on the resignation of Mazen Asbahi as Obama’s coordinator for Muslims and Arab-Americans. The problem?In 2000, Mr. Asbahi briefly served on the board of Allied Assets Advisors Fund, a Delaware-registered trust. Its other board members at the time included Jamal Said, the imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois. “I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board,” Mr. Asbahi said in his resignation letter. “Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down…to avoid distracting from Barack Obama’s message of change.”I have no idea whether there is anything more here than meets the eye.
OK, it’s old news, but since Ted Olson over at Christianity Today’s political blog wants to keep up the chatter about the McCain campaign’s “He is the One” videoswipe at Obama, here’s my two cents. Yes, the Matrix reference and the opening do suggest messiahship, and since the ad is anti-Obama, it can be interpreted as saying that since he’s not the real Messiah, he’s a false messiah, ergo (for Christians) the Antichrist. But I don’t buy it. This is not about Obama as Messiah but Obama as Moses, the prophet who led the Israelites to the Promised Land. And it doesn’t claim that he’s a false prophet (allowing as how he “may be” the One), but only that he’s “not ready to lead.”
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Cathleen Falsani, who’s covered the Obama religion beat more thoroughly than anyone, responds to Cal Thomas’ two-month-old argument (based on comments by Obama in an interview with Falsani) that Obama is not a true Christian. Yes he is, Falsani says. This is the kind of debate that will make most Americans squeamish, falling as it does squarely into the penumbra cast by the constitutional ban on religious tests for office. Thomas begins by noting that the Obama campaign “plans to strike at the heart of the Republican base by attempting to woo Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics to his side.” And concludes with this:Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement.
The Obama campaign has appointed its national coordinator for Muslim affairs and it’s not (as originally reported) Hiam Nawas, but a Chicago lawyer named Mazen Asbahi. Asbahi graduated from Northwestern Law School a dozen years ago, and has acquired his legal chops at some of the toniest law firms in the Second City. He’s also a practicing Muslim (see August 30, 2007 article in Chicago Daily Herald) and a player in the American Muslim community. (See his service on the board of directors of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.) He has been involved with the Nawawi Foundation, founded in Chicago in 2000, which describes itself as “born out of a need to provide relevant, meaningful Islamic teachings to America’s growing first and second generation Muslims – teachings firmly rooted in authentic scholarship and taught in a way that is dynamic and applicable to the modern world.” He’s fluent in Arabic.
Hal Lindsey, whose The Late Great Planet Earth was the premillennialist tract for the Jesus Freak generation, is still selling his premil patent medicine, and not very surprisingly the latest Sign of the Times is Barack Obama. Obama’s not the Antichrist, according to Lindsey, but rather a sort of harbinger, maybe an antichristical John the Baptist, or perhaps just evidence that the World is Ready.
From a chat with reporters on the plane to Germany:
Q. Do you want to tell us what your prayer was? BO. Uh, no. Update: The Israeli paper Maariv got hold of the prayer and published it. Bad journalistic form.
GOM’s Dan Gilgoff advances the proposition that Mara Vanderslice’s Matthew 25 Network, the Christian pro-Obama PAC, represents the religious left’s getting up to speed a lot faster than the religious right took. Nothing like having someone else break the trail. The relevant comparison is between the Moral Majority’s press release approach and Christian Coalition’s grass roots work, and Dan sees Matthew 25 as more on the CC model even as he acknowledges that it is tiny compared to CC in its heyday. But apart from resources, the challenge for the religious left is that the kind of grassroots mobilization-by-congregation that the CC specialized in is effectively impossible, not only because the IRS is a lot readier to pounce than it used to be but also–and even more–because the Catholic and mainline Protestant congregations where those susceptible to Matthew 25’s appeal hang out are much more ideologically mixed entities than the conservative white evangelical churches that CC brought into the Republican fold. CC’s weapon of choice was the voter guide.
In one sense, Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East could give him a chance to strut his religious stuff. His life experience has afforded him a certain personal insight into religion and society abroad: He spent a couple of years of his childhood living in largely Muslim Indonesia, and is acquainted with Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with a significant Muslim minority that includes some of his relatives. But Islam is a touchier than ever subject in the Obama camp, as witness the campaign’s inability to find a place on the plane for Ryan Lizza, who works for the notorious-cover-producing New Yorker. And then there’s the odd instruction to the Obama entourage not to don green apparel, for this might suggest an identification with the Islamist organization Hamas. (That is the more or less official color of Islam, but there doesn’t seem to be any Muslim equivalent to the Hibernian Wearin’ o’ the Green.) And so, I suppose, it should come as no surprise that there have been no reported meetings between Obama and Shiite or Sunni religious leaders in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Early this afternoon, Politico’s Ben Smith posted a report that the Obama campaign had decided to hire a Muslim liaison and that the person likely to be tapped for the position was Hiam Nawas, a Jordanian-American who held that position in the Wesley Clark campaign four years ago. Smith proceeded to quote from (and link to) an article Nawas wrote in 1985, saying that he had advocated that the Bush administration take “a more nuanced approach to public diplomacy directed at Muslim women.” And he quoted the following:”We need to recognise that the social structure in the Muslim world is very different from America’s,” she [sic] wrote. “American women need to understand that what is best for them is not necessarily what is best for Muslim women. Advocacy of women’s rights in the Muslim world must show sensitivity to local political realities.”Whereupon has ensued a small flood of comments, most of them filled with anti-Muslim and anti-Obama vituperation, many acidly suggesting that, right, we Americans should understand that Muslim women want to be subjugated etc.
In responding to the viral charges that he’s some kind of Muslim, Barack Obama has caught some flak for, in his insistence that he is not and never has been, seeming to acknowledge that there might be something wrong with that. On Larry King last night, he took the occasion of commenting on the notorious New Yorker fist-bump cover (about which he was a good deal more relaxed than a lot of other people) to address the issue:One last point I want to — I do want to make about these e-mails, though. And I think this has an impact on this “New Yorker” cover. You know, this is actually an insult against Muslim-Americans, something that we don’t spend a lot of time talking about. And sometimes I’ve been derelict in pointing that out.