October 23, 2013
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sarah Palin and Larry Klayman (r) (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
FreedomWatch founder and CEO Larry Klayman (right) with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sarah Palin. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

If you want to know how someone like David Jackson could nurse an irrational fear of President Obama, you need only look to conservative FreedomWatch founder and CEO Larry Klayman. At the Million Vets March on Oct. 13 in Washington, he was the one who said, “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

There is so much wrong with Klayman’s remarks. But he was unapologetic during an Oct. 18 MSNBC interview with Martin Bashir. “As a journalist and as a writer, Martin, you know that those references were metaphoric,” he said, “but they ring true.” Watch Klayman’s speech. There was nothing metaphorical about what he said about Obama. When Bashir accused Klayman of spreading lies about the president, Klayman said something that explains why anti-Obama calumny persists despite ample evidence to the contrary.  “You consider them to be lies, Martin,” he said. “I consider them to be true.”

Klayman urged Bashir and viewers to read his column on the fringe right Web site WorldNetDaily.com, “which explains exactly what I said.” So, that’s what I did. And to read it is to wade through the cesspool of conspiracy that feeds the fears of Jackson and other far-right critics of the president. “Here are just a few facts, among many, that are incontrovertible,” Klayman writes in his column. “Facts” that are easily demolished.

“First, there is no doubt that under Islamic law Obama is considered a Muslim, as his father was a Muslim.”

There is plenty of doubt. When the issue of Obama’s religious lineage arose during the 2008 campaign, Edward Luttwak wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood.” This assertion was knocked back by then Times public editor Clark Hoyt.

Luttwak made several sweeping statements that the scholars I interviewed said were incorrect or highly debatable, including assertions that in Islam a father’s religion always determines a child’s, regardless of the facts of his upbringing . . .

Obama was born in Hawaii to a mother from Kansas with Christian roots and a Kenyan father whose own father had converted to Islam. When Obama was a toddler, his father left the family. His mother later married an Indonesian Muslim, and Obama spent five years in Jakarta, where he attended Catholic and Muslim schools and, according to The Los Angeles Times, was enrolled in the third and fourth grades as a Muslim.

Luttwak wrote that given those facts, Obama was a Muslim and his mother’s Christian background was irrelevant. But Sherman A. Jackson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, cited an ancient Islamic jurist, Ibn al-Qasim, who said, “If you divorce a Christian woman and ignore your child from her to the point that the child grows up to be a Christian, the child is to be left,” meaning left to make his own choice. Jackson said that there was not total agreement among Islamic jurists on the point, but Luttwak’s assertion to the contrary was wrong.

When it comes to the president’s spiritual life, he just can’t win. One the one hand, he’s a closet Muslim waiting for the right time to impose Sharia law. On the other hand, he is the disciple of firebrand racist black Christian preacher who once thundered “not God bless America” but “God damn America.”

Another point must be made. It is beyond offensive to suggest, as Klayman and countless others have, that being Muslim is inherently suspicious or disqualifies one from the presidency. A surefire way to put an end to all of this is for leaders, especially those in the Republican Party, to say such suggestions about Obama and Islam in the face of countervailing evidence are wrong.

“Second, Obama has shown tremendous antipathy to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and has not been a friend of the Jewish state.”

There is no question that the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been famously frosty. But the notion that the president has not been “a friend of the Jewish state” is pure fantasy. Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister (1999-2001) and former defense minister (2007-2013), told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last year, “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.” Barak said this just days after Obama signed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act in July 2012.

“Third, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama referred to his “Muslim faith” in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.”

Folks who cling to this thin reed of conspiracy are truly desperate. They also lack the ability to follow a conversation. Below is the transcript of that moment in the Sept. 7, 2008, interview between ABC News’s Stephanopoulos and Obama.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned your Christian faith. Yesterday, you took off after the Republicans for suggesting you have Muslim connections. Just a few minutes ago, Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, said they’ve never done that. “This is a false and cynical attempt to play victim.”

OBAMA: You know what? I mean, these guys love to throw a rock and hide their hand. The –

STEPHANOPOULOS: The McCain campaign has never suggested you have Muslim connections.

OBAMA: No, no, no. But I don’t think that when you look at what is being promulgated on Fox News, let’s say, and Republican commentators, who are closely allied to these folks –

STEPHANOPOULOS: But John McCain said that’s wrong.

OBAMA: Well, look, the — listen, you and I both know that the minute that Governor Palin was forced to talk about her daughter, I immediately said, “That’s off-limits.” And –

STEPHANOPOULOS: And John McCain said the same thing about questioning your faith.

OBAMA: And what was the first thing that the McCain campaign went out and did? They said, “Look, these liberal blogs that support Obama are out there attacking Governor Palin.”

Let’ not play games. What I was suggesting — you’re absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith, and you’re absolutely right that that has not come

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your Christian faith.

OBAMA: My Christian faith. Well, what I’m saying is he hasn’t suggested –

STEPHANOPOULOS: His connections, right.

OBAMA : — that I’m a Muslim. And I think that his campaign, upper echelons have not either. What I think is fair to say is that coming out of the Republican camp, there have been efforts to suggest that perhaps I’m not who I say I am when it comes to my faith, something which I find deeply offensive. And that has been going on for a pretty long time.

“Fourth, a few years ago, Obama canceled commemoration of the National Day of Prayer in the White House and instead feasted Ramadan, using the occasion to endorse the Ground Zero mosque.”

Obama didn’t “cancel” the National Day of Prayer. No president can do that without an act of Congress since the annual and nationwide observance was established by Congress and signed into law by President Truman in 1952. President George W. Bush held an ecumenical service in the White House during his two terms in office. And it was that Bush custom that Obama “canceled.” But Obama has hardly been silent on that day. A quick click to the National Day of Prayer Web site reveals “there have been 62 Presidential Proclamations for a National Day of Prayer (1952-2013),” including five from Obama.

Yes, Obama did voice support of the right of Muslims to build a place of worship and community center in Lower Manhattan in 2010. Yes, he did so at a dinner celebrating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan that year. What Klayman doesn’t acknowledge (or perhaps doesn’t even know) is that the Iftar dinner at the White House was started by President Clinton and was held every year of the Bush presidency, according to CNN.

“Fifth, in 2009, Obama bowed down to Saudi King Abdullah, knowing that Americans, especially he who holds the highest elected position as president, do not bow to dictatorial tyrants who practice an extreme form of Islam – Wahhabi – in which honor killings are encouraged.”

The White House denied the president bowed to the Saudi king. To my eye it sure looked like it. But what does it matter? It didn’t matter to me when President George W. Bush held hands with King Abdullah. Neither Obama nor Bush was showing subservience to a foreign leader. The president of the United States is the most powerful person on the planet in a most exceptional nation. Or is that just far-right rhetoric?

“Sixth, Obama’s recent support of now-removed Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi speaks for itself.”

The United States is the leading proponent of democracy and the ability of people to choose their leaders in free and fair elections. The people of Egypt elected Mohamed Morsi in 2012. That they chose a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is a prime example of the messiness of democracy. Klayman doesn’t bother with pondering the circumstances of the U.S. president disregarding the electoral choices of the people in a region where the United States has a long history of aiding in the installation and removal of Middle East leaders. That being said, Obama wasn’t silent about Morsi’s abuses.

“Seventh, Obama has failed to speak out or act to address Christian persecution in the Middle East. For more examples, see ‘this piece in Jihad Watch.’”

Exactly what actions Klayman wants the president to take is unclear. Deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest made an ill-advised quip about red lines, but he could not have been more clear about the president’s view of Christian persecution in Egypt. “I can tell you that we have condemned in unambiguous terms all the violence that’s been perpetrated there in Egypt,” Earnest said during the Aug. 21, 2013 briefing. “We have been concerned and condemn the violence that was perpetrated by the government against peaceful protestors.  And we’re just as outraged and just as concerned about reports that Christian churches have been targeted.”

By the way, that piece Klayman directs readers to “for more examples” of Christian persecution says nothing about Christian persecution.

“Finally, even more disturbingly, Obama’s current rules of engagement put our fighting men and women at an unjustifiable risk of death at the hands of Islamic foes as, generally speaking, they cannot fire until fired upon and are forced to retreat if there is a chance Muslim civilians are in the vicinity of action.”

According to Jon Soltz, Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, this is completely wrong. “Larry Klayman’s claims are just asinine – laughable if he wasn’t a trusted source among the fringe right,” Soltz told me via e-mail. “The basis of the (Rules of Engagement) we’re operating under was formed under George W. Bush, not Barack Obama. They give our troops plenty of latitude to fire if they are under threat – not only if they’re fired upon. And there is literally nothing that says we need to retreat if civilians are around, only that we as a military never target civilians.  That’s a long-standing principle that has been further defined for the kind of counter-insurgency operations we’ve engaged in, in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Everything Klayman writes and says would be laughable were he not viewed as a leader. The kind of person who can easily and comfortably share the stage with elected officials, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and those with diminishing clout, such as Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and half-term governor of Alaska. Until real leaders condemn the Klaymans in their midst, the lies they tell and the conspiracy theories they inspire will never die.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.