Hello! My name is Michael Orion Powell. I’ve been a big admirer of Charles Johnson for a long time and am very happy to be blogging here. His taking on of both the Right and the Left is prescient and necessary in these times. I’m starting off in my first post here by taking on D’Nesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator who claims that Obama can be figured out by looking at “his roots.”
One thing I have learned about politics over the years has been the skill of refraining from direct emotional engagement and viewing things from a distance. Not only is this healthy for your own well being (which too many hot headed young political ideologues hold in lower value than they should), but it actually adds quite a bit of clarity as you’re able to observe what someone is saying without the obligatory urge to jump and voice your own disagreement.
D’Souza, a Christian conservative commentator of upper caste Indian origin, wrotein Forbes an article in which he derided President Barack Obama an “anti-colonialist” who is running the United States of America according to the dreams of a “Luo tribesmen who grew up in Kenya and studied at Harvard.”
For starters, when on earth did anti-colonialism become a bad thing? Perhaps we should also throw out George Orwell’s scathing critiques of colonialism from the school libraries and replace them with D’Souza’s own Orwellian tome The End of Racism.
I honestly have a feeling that D’Souza hasn’t read either of Obama’s books, and certainly not his first, which details his upbringing. Obama is a bit of a confusing guy, but anyone who looks at him seriously will see that his coming of age was primarily in Hawaii by a white mother, his grandmother and a grandfather who looked exactly like 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. He never knew his father much at all and only made a visit to Kenya upon adulthood.
Since Obama’s worldview (which I have yet to see distinguished thoughtfully from typical Keynesian, which I guess does sound suspicously “Kenyan,” liberalism in any shape or form) can be identified by simple ethnic background, let’s look first at D’Souza. D’Souza was raised as a Roman Catholic. D’Souza’s name (which, oddly enough, has West African roots) indicates, according to the Economist, that he grew up with the Roman Catholic Brahmins, Hindus converted by Missionaries in the seventeenth century. D’Souza attended an elite Catholic school in India and was bred to look at the native language, Konkani, as the lingua des criados (“language of servants”).
Can you see where I’m going here? D’Souza is much more rooted in a hierarchical, feudal culture than Obama is in whatever his Kenyan culture is supposed to be. D’Souza’s rants not only reveal his own warped psyche but also the general confusion that surrounds efforts to characterize and demonize Obama. When a man like Barack Obama runs as all things to all people, it’s hard to pick which of those things to use to beat on him.
D’Souza is a great fracture in the myth, reinforced by recent history in the United States, South Africa and Nazi Germany especially, that racism is a “white thing.” It’s not. It’s been falsely reinforced in the last half-century that white people have a monopoly on racial oppression, and that silly, simplistic notion will soon be destroyed with globalization. I had a class with an Iranian student who said that when he moved to the West, he refused to talk to black men. North African and Arab newspapers have racially tinged cartoons that look like a re-enactment of Amos and Andy. I don’t know what’s going on in D’Souza’s head, but I do think his upper caste upbringing certainly shaped his outlook.
For a little bit of narcissism, I thought I would use Dinesh D’Souza’s ethnic guilt by association to characterize myself. My full name is Michael Orion Powell. My given name on my father’s side is Michael Orion Deschamps. Deschamps comes from my father’s French heritage, his family being immigrants to the American South. My blog, Deschamps, is adorned with Lady Liberty in classic French Revolution garb. My mother speaks French fluently.
My middle name, Orion, is that of a Greek god known for hunting. I don’t even know how to interpret that. I’ll leave it to D’Souza, him being the expert on such matters.
On my mother’s side, which is of equal or possibly greater value, is Powell, which goes back several centuries in the United States. On my mother’s side, one of my distant ancestors was a doctor in the Confederate Army. Growing up as a Northwesterner, I was instilled with very little sympathy for the Southern Lost Cause but considering D’Souza’s assertion that our intellectual inheritance is completely (and not just partially, which I would certainly allow for) genetic, I’d gather that I’m not only a neo-Confederate but also an admirer of the ideals of the French Revolution and an advocate for renewed Francophone supremacy. Crazy! Perhaps I seek to have America run by French slaveowners?
Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, obviously confuses the matter even more for an upper caste Christian like D’Souza. If he’s of Kenyan origin, and Kenya has a Christian majority, and by all accounts Obama is a Christian, why does he have a Muslim name?
At root here is something even more complex than Obama being black. The rhetoric around Obama would be much, much different if he had been named Clarence Carter and actually grown up in the south side of Chicago that he started his political career in. America is confused about Islam and the vitriol against Obama reflects that. Unlike the rest of the world, the United States has gone most of its existence , since the early nineteenth century when President Thomas Jefferson confronted jihadists seeking to take American citizens as slaves, with little contact with the Islamic world. With a war on terror and Muslims a full 1% of the American population, that dynamic has changed dramatically.
Imagine being a young white male in Dublin, California. You go to school at one of the local teaching colleges, say California State University – East Bay or San Jose State. On Fox News you hear about terrorists being arrested or killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. You assume that most Muslims are brown-skinned Arabs. You see some of them and steer clear of them in your classes. You don’t consider yourself a racist but you’ve learned some mild discrimination from your suburban parents.
However, you start dating a girl who looks like she could be your own sister. Her eyes are blue, her hair very straight and blonde. After several dates, she starts wearing a covering on her head to work and school, which you later find out is called a hijab. She wears it because her parents want her to be more in line with her faith. As she becomes more religious in accordance with her family, she begins to worry about being seen with you. You’re a Lutheran and her father will not take kindly to his only daughter cavorting with a non-Muslim. This is major culture shocking and we shouldn’t be mad at the average American for being a bit confused.
This confusion is going to continue for a long time and debates in the United States like the French debate over the nijab (France being a society with more history with Islam than the US) are going to be in our future. The two current approaches of the two sides of the American political spectrum simply don’t really work on this issue. American liberals have decided that Muslims must be a “race” and a religion of “brown people”, so they can go under the old Politically Correct umbrella of critically untouchable minorities. Any talk of Islam that is not all gumdrops and lollipops, impossible when talking about a 1400 year old religion followed by over a billion of the Earth’s residents, is therefore racist or encouraging racism, even if it comes from a practicing Muslim like Irshad Manji. (Ignorance of Islam is not one sided. If I hear another liberal say “Muslim church” again, I may just resign in frustration.)
American conservatives aren’t any better, even if it fits their agenda to incorporate feminists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali into their fold. As can be seen with the debate over the Cordoba House community center New York City (mistakenly called a “Ground Zero Mosque” despite not fitting anything in that description), conservatives of the ilk of Newt Gingrich, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller are joining on the hate parade to slam Muslims into their overflowing basket of bigotry, right next to illegal immigrants and welfare recipients.
An issue cannot be ignored forever, however, and eventually American liberals, if they are the intellectually daring progressives that they claim, are going to have to delve deep into the issue and just not worry about where their conclusions will take them. A great service such as that will help Americans to realize how seriously ridiculous people like Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich are and make it more difficult to take him seriously. Having a seriously educated knowledge of Islam will also help Americans understand how their president can have an Arabic middle name while not being of Arab ancestry and practicing Christianity himself.