Monday, December 17, 2007

A trifling point, or not

When Bob Kerrey endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday, he offered some kind words for her chief opponent, Barack Obama:
It’s probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There’s a billion people on the planet that are Muslims and I think that experience is a big deal.

Some Obama supporters and liberal bloggers have taken offense at this, seeing it as a sneaky way to keep the Muslim Manchurian Candidate theme alive. Kerry says he meant no such thing, "I know that middle name is seen as a weakness by Republicans, but I don’t think it is. I think it enables him to speak to a billion Muslims around the world.”

Mark Kleiman is inclined to give Kerrey the benefit of the doubt, and, what's more, agrees with him.
It’s entirely possible that Kerrey meant what he said about Obama’s name doing America good in its foreign relations. I’m more inclined to believe that because I also think that what Kerrey said was true: a big advantage to electing Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency is that there are a billion people in the world with relatives named “Hussein,” and they’d be less inclined to be our enemies if our leader had “Hussein” in his name.

James Joyner is also inclined to give Kerrey the benefit of the doubt, However Joyner strongly disagrees with him.
[T]he idea that religious nuts who are willing to murder thousands of Americans would think “Hey, they elected a guy with a Muslim middle name! They must be okay!” is absurd. Hell, they kill plenty of people named Hussein who actually are Muslims; the only thing they hate more than American infidels is Arab apostates.

I agree with Joyner, but in the spirit of playing the "on the other hand" game till I have more hands than Kali, and, more importantly, in the spirit of pointless, academic pedantry that I so love, I do need to point out one flaw in Joyner's statement. Arab isn't a religion. Arab is a nationality and you cannot commit apostasy against a nationality (you cam emigrate, but that's not the same thing). Apostasy is a religious crime. Muslim is a religion. Arab and Muslim are not synonyms. Kerrey's lame point was that having the middle name "Hussein" would give Obama instant credibility with the world's Muslim population, over half of whom are not Arab.

Here let me present it as a handy list that you can print out and give to your friends and kin.
Arab - A nationality, not a religion
Muslim - A religion, not a nationality
Arab and Muslim - Not the same thing
Muslim and Islam - The same thing
Islamofacism - Not a real thing

Sigh. Actually, this is more than a pedantic point. These confusions about Arab and Muslim and about religion and nationality are epidemic among even the best educated Americans. The Bush administration is made up of arrogant, bullying idiots, but another administration made up of people with the best of intentions will still be a disaster in foreign policy if we don't care enough about the rest of the world's people and cultures to learn even the most basic facts about them.

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