If Obama is one, them Muslim can't mean Muslim
By HUGO RIFKIND - THE TIMES (LONDON)
Added: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 07:21:40 UTC
There was a poll the other week showing that 18 per cent of Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim. I didn’t understand it at all.
Probably this is my fault. Quite often with statements made by Americans, I understand the individual words but can derive literally no sense from the manner in which they have been strung together. “Will you be valeting your vehicle on charge, sir?”
No idea. You tell me.
This poll thing must be like that. You see, I understand the words “Barack Obama”, “is”, “a” and “Muslim”, but I just don’t understand how 18 per cent of Americans can believe they belong together.
I mean, if I said “Neil is a Muslim”, that would mean I believed that Neil was ... well, you know. A Muslim. If 18 per cent of Americans thought similarly, then they’d have to believe that Barack Obama has been lying for quite a while now. They’d have to believe that he pretends to eat pork but secretly doesn’t, and pretends to be busy being president all the time but actually manages to sneak off five times a day to pray to Mecca. Without anybody noticing.
They’d have to believe that when he joined a really quite shouty Chicago Church in his twenties he did this as part of a cunning plan to lie to America 20 years later in order to become president. This would be a plan that also involved working with this Church’s outreach programmes, getting baptised there, getting married there, having his kids baptised there, initially defending his nutty pastor in his election campaign and quoting from him extensively in not one, but two autobiographies. And all the while still making it to the mosque of a Friday, perhaps in a false moustache.
Additionally, they’d probably have to believe that when his (non-Muslim) mother sent him to a Roman Catholic school in Jakarta, she was in on this plan and supported it, notwithstanding that the future 44th President of the United States was, at the time, eight. They might have to believe that his Muslim father was in on it too, which is why he left when Barack was four, returned once when he was ten and then very helpfully died.
Now, I’m sure that there are some people who believe all this, but I can’t accept that they include one in every five and a half Americans. So we are left with two options in understanding what these people mean by “Barack Obama is a Muslim”.
The first is that their “is” doesn’t mean “is” but, in fact, means something closer to “isn’t”. This would tie in with other Americanisms that I’ve failed to understand in the past (such as the way “I could care less” actually means “I couldn’t care less”) but I’m not sure it’s the answer.
The other option is that they don’t mean the same thing as you or I by the word “Muslim”. To them, it can’t possibly mean “adherent of the faith inspired by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad”. I suppose, to them, “Muslim” is just something that you might be if you aren’t properly “American”. Although, to be honest, I’m never entirely clear on what they mean by that word, either.
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