A delightfully ignorant old meme is taking a victory lap around Facebook.
This one first showed up in May 2008 when a reporter snapped a picture of then-Senator Barack Obama holding a book called “The Post-American World.” Those on the far right, already in those early days convinced that Obama was a secret Muslim hell-bent on the destruction of America, took this as a rare glimpse behind the mask, the DARK TRUTH REVEALED! Five and a half years later, despite the noticeable absence of burqas, madrassas, and shariah courts in Peoria, the same pernicious beliefs are still being passed around the same dumb corners of the Internet. This one’s of interest, though, because it shows how the paranoid right uses the very tactics they accuse their enemies of using.
It’s not news that many of the more slack-jawed haters of Barack Obama believe he’s a secret Muslim, nor that many of those who hate Islam have all manner of ignorant misconceptions about it. At the top of this list is the way wingers understand taqiyya; the idea that Muslims “are allowed to lie to infidels!”
Taqiyya is a real concept in Shi’ite Islamic jurisprudence (do wingers think President Obama a secret Shi’ite or a secret Sunni, I’ve always wondered? This presupposes knowledge of the finer points of Islam that might be a bit advanced for the wing, though). The idea is basically that it’s OK–as in, you will not face legal sanction by Islamic courts–to claim not to be a Muslim if you’re facing duress or persecution, as long as you continue to believe Islam’s tenets in your heart; similar concepts exist in Judaism. Your correspondent is certainly not an expert on Islamic jurisprudence, but it should be clear even to a (sane) layman that the cartoonish view of “taqiyya”–the idea is that Muslims are “allowed to lie to infidels” (therefore, we can’t trust ’em) is head-scratchingly dumb. It asserts that Muslims are the only people who lie, and that they have to get special religious dispensation to do so. Do they never lie to each other? Does the Holy Spirit physically constrain Christians from telling lies? The idea is even more absurd when extended to B.H. Obama: as a sekrit agent of Muslim fundamentalism, he’s concealed his faith so skilfully that the American people have elected him twice to the Oval Office—from which seat he’s doing radical Islamic things like ordering the killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
And yet, this view is so baked in to the worldview of the people who believe this nonsense that Obama’s status as a Sekrit Muslim is not even the main point of this meme; it’s already taken as background knowledge the audience possesses. The main point of this meme is PRESIDENT OBAMA IS SEKRITLY READING A BOOK! B. Hussein was so determined to maintain the elaborate taqiyya he’s constructed around his life—he’s not only a Muslim, he’s a Muslim who reads books by other Muslims about how to destroy America—that he went out in public and in front of the press corps, during his first presidential campaign, holding the secret Muslim book in his hand!
Fareed Zakaria, a former editor of Newsweek International, is indeed a Muslim—although a pretty secular one, as his brief tenure as the editor of the wine section for Slate suggests. In fact, by the standards of the conspiracy theorists, since he attended a Catholic school in his hometown of Mumbai, he must actually be a Christian! (Wingers attach much significance to the several years Obama spent as a student at a public school in Jakarta where religious classes were required.) And his book, “The Post-American World,” (one thing the meme-writer gets right: “post” does in fact mean “after,” although you’re not supposed to put a space before an exclamation point) is mostly about the growing economic and political power of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. To anyone with more than a dozen or so neurons, the economic and political rise of India and China in particular is the long-term world news story, and has been for a couple decades. Although the book has a bit of an alarmist title, America is not actually “ending” any time soon. At least, that’s not purported to be the case in Zakaria’s book. Its thesis is about as uncontroversial as books about world politics can get.
Debunking a meme like this is so easy, it’s hardly even useful. The people who believe Obama is a Muslim have believed it for years; and if you don’t already believe it, you’re not going to be convinced by something this silly. But let’s look at what went into the construction of this meme. Someone wrote the sentence, “Obama was pissed.” That sentence is a lie; this is something that simply never happened. Whoever wrote this must have known it was not true, but wrote it anyway–because they believed, perhaps sincerely, that it was a small lie in service of a greater cause: impeding the rise to power of Barack Obama. Someone perpetuated a deliberate lie in the service of their ideological agenda–that is to say, they engaged in (if I may borrow a phrase from the Arabic) taqiyya.