Malik, Barack and the "Sh'ma"

When Obama and McCain next speak, close your eyes and open your ears.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
A exclusive blog A recent flurry of emails, blogs and newspaper articles, again dealing with the non-issue of Barack Obama's relationship with his Moslem relatives, has been clogging the media waves and therefore demands a response. The perspective for my response comes from a surprising source: the important Jewish prayer of "Sh'ma Yisrael". In his interview with a reporter for Israel's Army Radio, Malik Obama, a half-brother to Barack Obama, reportedly said that if elected, Barack Obama "will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background". This was leapt upon by voracious bloggers as evidence, in the words of one of them, that Barack Obama "grew up as a Muslim." The implication is that Malik Obama, would certainly know how his half-brother had been raised. This is completely wrong; it does not reveal the truth, but is a distortion of the facts. Even if Malik Obama had said the words he is reputed to have said (which he did not - they were an inaccurate translation of Malik's actual remarks), he would not have been in a position to know how Barack Obama was raised. Malik grew up on a different continent than Barack, and did not even meet his half-brother until 1985, when they were both adults. This meeting, and their relationship, has been fully detailed in Barack Obama's book Dreams of my Father, and is nothing new. I discussed this matter with the reporter for Army Radio who conducted the interview, and who advised me, and I quote:" The word "background" was not used by Malik, at no point of the conversation. We use the Hebrew word "REKA", referring only to his family ties, and that of course, is a well-known fact. Nowhere did he talk about his brother raised up as Muslim or anything like that." The transcript of the interview confirms this. So a misquote attributed to a person who did not know the thoughts and influences on Barack Obama as he was growing up, was wrongly used to imply things that had never been said. As one blogger wrote: "Mark Twain is said to have quipped: 'A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.' And that was before the internet." Perhaps it is not surprising that anti-Obama forces are reaching deep into their bag of dirty tricks to try to sully Barack Obama's name and reputation. Even at this early stage of the campaign, polls have Obama leading McCain by about 15%. They are worried; but this doesn't justify libel and slander. The charge that Obama was not truthful about his background can be added to the list of other whisperings about Obama. Not all of the statements are evil. Worries about Obama's being too young, for example, parallel concerns that McCain is too old. Too many of the statements are, however, malicious and ugly. The implication that Barack Obama would not be a good president somehow because of his racial or family background is repugnant, is unconstitutional and is un-American. An interesting gloss on this whole matter was raised during the reading of the Torah in synagogues this past Shabbat, portions of which are included in the important prayer known as the "Sh'ma". The prayer opens: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." The prayer continues with warnings not to be misled by the urgings of one's heart or eyes. The Sh'ma prayer is remarkable in that it states that God - and hence truth - may be better perceived through the ears than by the eyes. In fact, throughout the Bible, God appears to Moses by speaking to him, but denies Moses the opportunity to visually look at Him. Even Moses experiences God through hearing. The eyes may be easily deceived. The eyes see only the superficial exterior and register a subjective response based upon an individual's internal mental wiring - his own set of biases and prejudices. Communication by hearing is more penetrating. It involves the need of the communicator and the recipient to be on the same page - to speak to each other in a common language in order to be correctly understood. Ten individuals of different countries and backgrounds, seeing an event, will each understand the event in his own way, and will together offer ten different interpretations of the event. However, only the individual who has understood the language and cultural context of the communicator can even suggest a reliable interpretation of the substance of the oral communication. Here then is a challenge to any honest person who wishes to truly understand the nature and character of the two candidates, and thus to vote properly. When Obama and McCain next speak or debate each other - close your eyes and open your ears. Close your eyes to the visual misinformation that comes from superficial prejudices over race, religion or age. Don't judge either candidate based upon such superficial external characteristics. Open your ears and actually listen to what each candidate has to say. Measure their confidence, their energy, their courage and their character. Listen to what each has to say and how he says it. Decide which candidate has the better understanding of the problems facing America and who has the determination, the energy and the courage required to carry out his program. Don't be misguided by the prejudices of others who are too lazy to honestly evaluate the candidates, or who choose their candidate on the basis of personal prejudice or past party identification. Think for yourself and choose by yourself. And then vote. The writer is Counsel to Democrats Abroad Israel