By Daniel Luban
Readers in need of entertainment should really check out Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney‘s howler of an op-ed in the Washington Times today. While optimists may have thought that the “Obama is a secret Muslim” rumor would fade following the 2008 elections, Gaffney’s piece demonstrates that it is back with a vengeance in the wake of Obama’s Cairo speech.
Of course, Gaffney never explicitly endorses the “secret Muslim” thesis, but rather declares that the jury is still out: “This is not to say, necessarily, that Obama is a a Muslim…” Later, he speaks of “mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but may still be one himself.” (Obama may “still” be one because Gaffney takes it for granted that Obama was a Muslim during his childhood years in Indonesia.) In a rather hilarious attempt to grant a facade of seriousness to his conspiracy theories, Gaffney loftily declares that “[i]n the final analysis, it may be besides the point whether Mr. Obama actually is a Muslim.” And later: “Whether Mr. Obama actually is a Muslim or simply plays one in the presidency may, in the end, be irrelevant.” This appears to be the standard debater’s trick amongst right-wingers who fancy themselves Serious Thinkers (cf. The New Criterion‘s Roger Kimball) designed to separate them from the outright lunacy of the likes of Pamela “Obama is the illegitimate child of Malcolm X” Geller. Although evidence may suggest that Obama is a secret Muslim, Gaffney and Kimball proclaim, we have no way of knowing for sure. After all, one wouldn’t want to say anything crazy.
The particulars of Gaffney’s argument are just as entertaining as the general thesis. For instance, he claims that Obama’s phrasing about the “Holy Koran” having been “revealed” marks him as a believing Muslim. But as my colleague Eli Clifton points out, none other than George W. Bush (whose Christianity, I assume, is not under suspicion) used identical formulations. Similarly, Gaffney takes Obama’s use of the phrase “peace be upon them” as proof that he is a Muslim, when the same phrase is also used (albeit less frequently) in the Jewish tradition. (And if gestures of respect toward Islam make Obama a secret Muslim, how can we be sure that he isn’t also a secret Jew?)
Perhaps the most remarkable sentence in Gaffney’s op-ed is this one: “The man now happy to have his Islamic-rooted middle name featured prominently has engaged in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich.” Of course, it is an unwritten rule that every neoconservative foreign policy column must include at least one Neville Chamberlain reference, and Gaffney has always been more than willing to oblige. (Eli points out these 2002 op-eds, in which Gaffney compares Colin Powell to Chamberlain before concluding that the analogy “may be unfair to Prime Minister Chamberlain.”) But as Jeffrey Goldberg notes (credit where it’s due), Gaffney’s use of the Munich analogy here is novel in that it casts Obama as Hitler rather than Chamberlain. Moral equivalence, indeed.
While none of these arguments would be particularly surprising coming from fringe figures like Geller, I must admit that I was startled to see them coming from Gaffney, a pillar of the neoconservative foreign policy establishment with deep ties to the defense industry. It makes sense that Gaffney has recently been palling around with Geller — just one indication of the burgeoning alliance between neoconservative hawks and the far-right Islamophobic fringe.
UPDATE from Jim:
Of course, not only has Gaffney enjoyed the generosity of the defense industry, he has also received funding from casino king Irving Moskowitz, long-time backer of the most radical and aggressive elements in the Israeli settlement movement on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.