In his Sydney Morning Herald column this morning Gerard Henderson came to John Howard’s defence for attacking the “US Democratic Party presidential aspirant Barack Hussein Obama”. Let’s not worry about the Henderson view that Howard was “essentially correct”, if “undiplomatic”, in declaring that Obama was encouraging those who wanted to destabilise and destroy Iraq when he called for a withdrawal of American troops by March next year. The Sydney think tank man is as entitled as the next person to think what he likes. It is with that “Hussein” word that Henderson has sunk down to the sleazy depths of the very worst of the right wing apologists for the George Bush war machine.

The Washington Post put it rather nicely in its editorial of 26 January this year. “It’s become a fad among some conservatives to refer to the junior senator from Illinois by his full name: Barack Hussein Obama. This would be merely juvenile if it weren’t so contemptible.”

By highlighting a second name that Barack Obama himself never uses, the commentators clearly hope to leave the impression that his words can be discounted because he is a Muslim or a Muslim sympathiser and thus not a true American. To quote the Washington Post editorial again: “Those who take pains to insert it when referring to him are trying, none too subtly, to stir up scary images of menacing terrorists and evil dictators. They embarrass only themselves.”

The genesis of much of the slime being stirred up about candidate Obama was a Salon.com article “The new face of the Democratic Party – and America” that appeared back in March 2004. In it the writer Scott Turow mentioned the Muslim heritage, which the conservatives in America, and now Henderson, seem obsessed with, along with the Christian influences, which the same conservatives ignore.

The following extract from Turow’s article gives a more accurate flavour of what was an interesting early life.

His parents met as college students in 1960. His father, also named Barack Obama, was from Kenya’s Luo tribe, the first African exchange student at the University of Hawaii. His mother, Anna, had gone to Hawaii from Kansas with her parents. Even in Hawaii’s polyglot culture a black and white couple remained at best an oddity in 1961, when Obama was born; at the time miscegenation was still a crime in many states. Nor was Obama Sr.’s marriage welcomed in Kenya. Under those pressures, Obama’s father departed when Barack was two to pursue his PhD at Harvard, leaving his son with mother and grandparents. When Obama was six, Anna remarried. Her new husband was Lolo, an Indonesian oil company manager, and the new family moved to Jakarta, where Obama’s sister Maya was born. (Obama describes her looks as those “of a Latin queen.”)

After two years in a Muslim school, then two more in a Catholic school, Obama was sent by his mother back to her parents’ home so that he could attend Hawaii’s esteemed Punahou Academy. Living with two middle-aged, middle-class white people (his grandfather was a salesman, his grandmother a bank employee trapped by a glass ceiling), Obama struggled as an adolescent with the realities of being African-American, an identity that was in part imposed by others, and yet one he also embraced as the legacy of a father for whom he yearned but with whom he enjoyed only sporadic contact. He attended California’s Occidental College, then Columbia. After graduation he moved to Chicago, where he worked for a number of years as a community organiser on the city’s South Side, employed by a consortium of church and community groups that hoped to save manufacturing jobs.

 


 

Gerard Henderson writes: Richard Farmer’s piece was over the top. According to Mr Farmer, I have “sunk down to the sleazy depths of the very worst of the right-wing apologists for the George Bush war machine”. Why? Just because, in my syndicated column, I referred to Barack Hussein Obama by his full name. That’s all. According to Richard Farmer, this is improper. How do we know this? Well, the Washington Post says so. So this must be the case – according to The Thought of Farmer. Mr Farmer asserted that I “seem obsessed” with Senator Obama’s “Muslim heritage” but that I have ignored “the Christian influences” on him. Not so. In my column, I referred to Senator Obama’s books in which he has written that he was brought up a Muslim and that he converted to Christianity. I added that Senator Obama was now a member of the United Church of Christ. In other words, I did not ignore the Christian influences on the United States presidential aspirant. If Barack Hussein Obama’s campaign is likely to be hindered merely by the use of his full name, then it will be a difficult road to the White House – irrespective of whatever sermonising the Washington Post and its followers may choose to engage in.

Peter Fray

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