Rightwing Smearers of Obama Don’t know a School from a Madrasa
The rightwing smear campaign against Barack Obama, waged by a magazine funded by the far rightwing Korean businessman and part-time messiah, the Reverend Moon, has foundered on CNN’s good reporting. The allegation was that he had gone to a radical “Saudi-funded” madrasah. Wolf Blitzer had the professionalism to send out an experienced reporter to the school that Obama attended when he was 6 years old in Indonesia. He found it just an ordinary modern school with boys and girls and both male and female teachers, which taught modern subjects.
The smear campaign would be hilarious if it weren’t so satanic.
First of all, let’s explain about the word madrasah. In Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew, words are mostly made up of three-letter roots. In Indo-European languages, words tend to have two-letter roots. In roots, you don’t count short vowels. So in Arabic, the root for to learn (as in school learning) is d* r *s*. Arabic is an elegant, almost mathematical language. If you put those three-letter roots in certain “molds,” it produces a linked vocabulary. Dars is a lesson. Darrasa with a doubling of the “r” is “to teach.” You make a noun of place by putting an “m” in front and a soft “h” at the end. Thus, madrasah is the place where you study. Thus, madrasah means . . . school.
Now, there are lots of kinds of school, after all. But an ordinary elementary school attended by boys and girls and offering a modern curriculum would be called a madrasah in Arabic, i.e. a school. And this word has gone into lots of languages, especially ones spoken by Muslims, as a loan word.
So, yes, if one is speaking Arabic, Barack Obama went to a “madrasah,” i.e. an elementary school! So did you.
The schools for young children that train them in specifically Muslim subjects are not properly called madrasah/school but rather they are maktab (from the root kataba, to write) or kuttab.
Now, it is true that there are higher seminaries for training clerics that are called madrasat al-`ulum, or “seminary for religious sciences” (`ulum is the plural of `ilm or knowledge, which here means ‘religious science’). That phrase is shortened sometimes to madrasah. But you don’t send 6-year-olds to a seminary for higher education. They have to start studying religion in a maktab. Apparently in Pakistan the distinction is sometimes lost, but they are not native Arabic speakers.
By the way, very few terrorists or suicide bombers have ever graduated from a seminary/ madrasah of `ulum. The lead hijackers on 9/11 had all gone to modern schools and Western universities. Relatively few seminary students or graduates in Pakistan even bothered to come out and demonstrate in fall of 2001 against the building US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. In places like Egypt, Muslim political activists tend to be engineers with a modern university education, whereas the clerics trained in seminaries/ madrasahs of `ulum are typically coopted by the regime and are relatively moderate. So not all Muslim seminaries are hotbeds of radicalism.
A lot of words in Arabic have both an older, religious meaning and a newer, secular one. Thus, `ilm means “science” in modern Arabic but can also still mean “religious branch of knowledge.” Someone who specializes in `ilm is an `aalim, plural `ulama’. But in Arabic you can only tell by context if someone is talking about `ulama’/scientists or `ulama’/ clerics. Thus dual meaning is also characteristic of the word madrasah or school.
So the entire report was brain dead and deeply ignorant and offensive. Let’s judge Barack Obama on what kind of person he is, how likely he is to prove a great public servant. Who his father was or the religion of his paternal ancestors is not relevant.
By the way, most Europeans have some Muslim ancestors if you go back. The British royal family is descended in part from Muhammad. Many Sicilians have Arab ancestors. A lot of Latinos/Latinas have direct Muslim background, given the forced conversion of hundreds of thousands of Spanish Muslims to Catholicism from the 1400s and subsequent intermarriage with them. In fact, by the principles of population genetics, almost all persons of European heritage probably by now have some Arab ancestry. You have a million ancestors if you extrapolate back a few centuries. How likely is it that none was from Southern France, from Sicily or from Spain, where there had been Arab Muslim populations in the medieval period?
The real question is why foreign billionaire cultists own so much of America’s media. Lou Dobbs, who is so concerned about illegal immigration, should leave the poor alone long enough to look into the rich and influential, rightwing aliens. This smear was brought to us by the media owned by the Reverend Moon (who did jail time for tax evasion) and by Rupert Murdoch (which picked it up shamelessly). Americans will never get back their purloined liberty until they stop letting the super-rich tell them what to think.