THE SPINE NOVEMBER 7, 2010
I am no Gandhian. And neither is Barack Obama. But he is the president of the United States, and he can get his speechwriters to put into speeches any nonsense he wants. As Jim Yardley indicates in his New York Times dispatch from New Delhi, already in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance address Obama set Gandhi as "the North Star that sets us on our journey." Yardley also reminds us that the president once said that Gandhi was the person he most would have liked to have "dined" with, although his reason was perhaps a bit incoherent. No, it was more than incoherent. On the other hand, he realized that the meal would have been pretty small. Still, on signing the guest book at the Gandhi museum in Mumbai, he uttered the classic superlative of his generation: "pretty cool."
Pretty cool, indeed. But the world is very hot. Especially the Third World with which Obama fancies himself to have special bonds and towards which he seems to believe he has a special vocation. The truth is, of course, that even India has about as much Gandhian essence as the United States does the spirit of, say, Roger Williams. Which is very little, indeed.
Except that, as an eminent Indian journalist put it to Yardley, "...the impression on the Indian side is every time you meet him, he talks about Gandhi." But, as Sheryl Stolberg also of the Times, points out this morning, all that students questioning him wanted to discuss was "jihad." And he was ready with that bull-shitty quarter truth that "Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a a lot of different interpretations." (This was the trope that that Harvard senior also deceitfully put forward in his 2002 commencement speech, which I wrote about at the time).
Obama continued: All of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified. So, I think, one of the challenges that we face is how do we isolate those who have distorted notions of religious war.
This does not sit well with the billion Indians, especially Hindu Indians, who are sitting ducks for jihadist terror. and it certainly did not sit well with the president's listeners. (Not that the Hindus -or the Israelis- are completely free of their own fanatics.) But, believe me, what defines Islam these days is not the Sufis.
Doubtless, there are tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions of Muslims whose faith binds their souls to peace. But we are not discussing the Muslims of southeast Asia. We are discussing the Islamic stretch, east to west, from Pakistan to Algeria and, north to south, from Turkey to Yemen and Somalia. This includes the Arab heart of Islam.
And in that heart there seems to be no sympathy for the victims of practical jihad, concrete jihad. In Iraq, during a several day outcropping of siege and bombings starting on October 31, perhaps 150 Christians and a lesser number of Shi'a were murdered. Yes, murdered in their innocence and at prayer. One can not count the injured and maimed. And there was neither protest nor outrage.
Even among our "allies" in the Yemeni government, among our "fighting comrades" in Afghanistan, among our friends in the Pakistani sort-of state, there appears to be no anger at the debauchery of random liquidation. And not in the Sudan either. These are the countries of the salient jihad: Al-Qaeda plus the indifference of the rest. If the Israelis were to permit it they, too, would be the victims.
So, please, Mr. President, be honest with us on this matter. For once, at least.
The fact is that Obama is in a Muslim trap of his own making. During the campaign, he eluded Islamic tropes, so much so that his problem became distinguishing himself from his nut-case Christian but anti-American and anti-Jewish preacher of twenty years, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Then, upon inauguration and after, he played up Muslim themes. Still, as he took the oath of office, I was thrilled when he rang out "I, Barack Hussein Obama..." This is, after all, America.
Hey, on the other hand, everybody to his own pretensions. When it turned out, during the recent campaign, that perhaps a quarter of the American populace believed him to be faithful to Islam he took it out on the Sikhs of the Punjab in India. He would not go to their temple in Amritsar. If he did, he'd have to cover his head with a ritual skull cap. Those are the rules of the Sikhs. Oops, that might make him look like a Muslim even though the Sikhs are not that. Won't go, can't go. Is this man's identity so unsure, so slippery?
The truth is that, if he went to Israel (and there are all kinds of reasons why he won't) he might on occasion have also to wear a kippah, another type of skull cap. Going to the Wall, for example. And standing at the memorial flame of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial (whose architect is my friend Moshe Safdie and about which I wrote when it opened.) After all, in his little yarmulke, someone might still mistake the president for a Muslim. This is pathetic.
And so back to Gandhi. Unlike my friend, once my student, and the former editor of TNR Rick Hertzberg (who wrote about Gandhi in its pages) I have no feelings for Gandhi. In fact, I suppose I should say that "unlike Obama" I have no feelings for Gandhi at all. I react to him the way George Orwell did. You can read Orwell's essay here. And Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens with both of whom I have many weighty differences.
Like Gandhi Obama wants to pass himself off as a transcendent human being. But, unlike Gandhi and since he commands official power, he can't. After all, Obama is cool, very cool. So he commands when he needs to the persona of the frustrated innocent. If I only I could be Gandhi...
Orwell paraphrases Gandhi on the Jewish problem during the Nazi era, that "the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide" so that they "would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler's violence."
Orwell goes on: After the war Gandhi justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly.
Just like that. A gruesome calculation. Gandhi was not so transcendent, after all. Why the hell would anyone aspire to be Gandhi?
This is by no means the president's view. And I suppose that he should not have been burdened with the obligation to have called attention to Gandhi's venom towards the Jews, although there would have been a very different accounting had this venom been fixed on any other group.
As it happens, alas, it took Obama a very long time to recognize explicitly the historic right of the Jewish people to live in a Jewish state of their own. Here is the first truly coherent nation in history. And it had to wait for a year and a half for Barack Obama to be squeezed by political necessity into recognizing its historicity.
P.S.: Just as I put this SPINE to bed I cam across another horrendous article, this one by Salman Masood in the International Herald Tribune. "Scores killed as bomber hits mosque in Pakistan," read the headline. Here are the details: "At least 60 people were killed. At least 70 people are injured." There will be no protest anywhere. If there were signs of protest it would be a different story.