Arabs: Obama ‘One of Us'
October 29, 2008
While Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama “has tried to push his origins into the background, his ‘Islamic roots’ have won him a place in many Arabs’ hearts.”
That’s the observation of Iranian-born commentator Amir Taheri, whose column in Tuesday’s New York Post notes that many Arabs and other Muslims see Obama as “one of them.”
They see that Obama has Arabic-Islamic first and middle names: Barack means “blessed” and Hussein means “beautiful.” His last name is Swahili, an East African language based on Arabic, Taheri writes. His sister is named Oumah, Arabic for “the community of the faithful;” his daughter Malia bears the name of a daughter of the noted Caliph Othman; and his father and stepfather were both Muslims.
Although Taheri did not note it, Obama was raised partially as a Muslim when he lived in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather. While there, he studied at two schools and was registered at both as a Muslim student.
As such he received Islamic religious instruction, studied the Koran, and prayed with other students. He did attend mosque, albeit infrequently, with his stepfather.
Obama’s religious upbringing after Indonesia is somewhat of a mystery until his late 20s. At that point, Obama says he converted to Christianity after meeting the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Chicago.
Still, Obama has maintained strong support from American Muslims, including Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam movement. Farrakhan has endorsed Obama and has called him the “messiah.”
These factors have made Obama a big hit in the Arab world, where he has received wide praise, including:
- The Syrian regime has indicated its preference for Obama. Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, has written: “The change suggested by Obama is essential not only for the U.S. but for the entire human family.”
- Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi called Obama “a Muslim” and said: “All the people in the Arab and Muslim world and in Africa applauded this man. They welcome him and prayed for his success,” although Qaddafi also expressed criticism of Obama’s comments on the future of Jerusalem.
- Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said this year: “We like Mr. Obama and we hope that he will win the election.”
- Hezbollah’s second in command, Sheik Naim al-Kassim, urged Americans to vote for Obama as a step toward peace with Islam, and pro-Hezbollah columnist Amal Saad-Ghorayeb said there is “no doubt Arabs should welcome an Obama presidency,” according to Taheri.
- In Saudi Arabia, commentator Hussein Shobokshi wrote that an Obama presidency “would mark an important moral transformation in the superpower and is a healthy indicator of the long-awaited improvement in the international arena.”
Some columnists also have noted Obama’s close ties to several Palestinian radicals, including Columbia University Prof. Rashid Khalidi — former communications director for the Palestinian Liberation Organization — and another Palestinian political activist, the late Edward Said.
The “Arab street” also favors Obama. Recent surveys found that he is the preferred candidate in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.