Here’s my 2012 column in Taki’s Magazine that offered a useful neologism for thinking about where the President is coming from: he is by upbringing a “Muslimist.” I derived the word from the term “Arabist” that has traditionally been used to describe the High Protestant caste of American diplomats and educators who long were the Arab world’s main voices in America.
For example, Golden State Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr is the descendant of several generations of Arabists. When I was at UCLA in the early 1980s, Steve father, Malcolm Kerr, had a nice job as vice-chancellor. But then Malcolm quit to head the American University of Beirut, where his parents had taught. It took a brave man to leave idyllic Westwood for Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.
Two years later, Malcolm Kerr was assassinated.
Making Sense of Obama: The Muslimist
by Steve Sailer
October 31, 2012
Who is the real Barack Obama? …
A simple explanation of Obama’s strengths and weaknesses has finally occurred to me.
The first two-dozen years of Obama’s life saw him on a path for a professional niche that nobody has quite explicated before. Until he upped stakes and moved to Chicago in 1985 to participate in the Council Wars racial struggle with the implausible goal of becoming mayor of Chicago, Obama was gliding down an unusual path: to become an international interlocutor, a graceful go-between connecting America and the Muslim world. …
In American history, Foreign Service specialists are often the mild-mannered descendants of adventuresome old Protestants who became bored with their rocky Northeastern farms, such as the Yankee sea captains, merchants, and Protestant missionaries who dominated 19th-century America’s contacts with less developed cultures abroad such as the Kingdom of Hawaii.
In 1971, the ten-year-old Barack Obama enrolled in Punahou School, Hawaii’s flagship of Yankee culture. Punahou had been founded 130 years before by the Vermont missionary Hiram Bingham I. Upon Bingham, James Michener had modeled his villain, the Rev. Abner Hale, in his 1959 bestseller Hawaii.
As Obama notes in his stump speeches, the Dunhams were from Kansas … but from a particularly Yankee-leaning part of the Jayhawk State. For instance, his grandfather’s brother Ralph, a Berkeley Ph.D., traced his name back to that ultimate Unitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson. (The president’s grandmother also had a sibling who earned a doctorate.)
In American history, the two most controversial castes of missionary-derived mandarins were the Old China Hands and the Arabists.
The former were typically sons of Protestant missionaries born or raised in China, such as Owen Lattimore, John Paton Davies, Jr., and John S. Service. The left-leaning diplomatic, academic, and journalistic China Hands clashed with the right-leaning China Lobby in the 1940s and 1950s over whether American should back Mao Tse-tung or Chiang Kai-shek. Was Chiang a loser or was Mao a lunatic? (Unfortunately, it turned out that both could be true simultaneously.)
Similarly, as outlined in Robert D. Kaplan’s 1995 book The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite, Protestant missionaries from the Atlantic Seaboard voyaged to the Arab world in the 19th century. They didn’t have much luck converting the locals to Protestantism. … But these intermarried families founded influential schools such as the American University of Beirut.
The Arabists played an influential role in American foreign policy until largely being squeezed out by Zionists angered with Arabists’ sympathy for the Palestinians.
Much of the Muslim world, however, is not Arab—for example, Indonesia, Pakistan, and large parts of black Africa. And that opened up a potential career path not as an Arabist per se, but as a “Muslimist.” The Muslimist route became especially promising in 1973 with the Muslim-dominated OPEC’s emergence as an economic power. The oil cartel included not only Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Libya, and Iran, but also Indonesia and part-Muslim Nigeria.
And who was better suited by family, friends, and personality to become a professional Muslimist than Barack Obama? As Obama told his biographer David Maraniss, the “obvious path for me given my background” was to get a graduate degree in international relations and wind up “working in the State Department, in the Foreign Service, or working for an international foundation.…”
After all, how common is it for an American citizen to be the biological son of an East African government official and a Ford Foundation employee in Jakarta, and the stepson of an Indonesian who works in government relations for an American oil company because his brother-in-law was in charge of mineral rights for the Jakarta regime? …
Obama’s elders recognized that this career path made sense for him. Thus, at substantial expense, he attended Occidental, an underachieving but quite WASPy/international liberal-arts college, and then majored in international relations at Columbia.
Most of Obama’s male friends from age 18 through 24 were rich Pakistani Marxists, putting him on the fringes of the powerful Bhutto circle. (They all saw Obama as much less African-American than as “international.”)
But it’s also telling that his best American buddy, Phil Boerner, with whom he transferred from Occidental to Columbia in 1981, was the son of a peripatetic diplomat.
Likewise, Obama’s most serious New York girlfriend, Genevieve Cook, was the daughter of a top Australian diplomat/spy in Indonesia who later became Australia’s ambassador to America. Genevieve was also the stepdaughter of the chief counsel of the International Nickel Company, which had lucrative mining interests in Indonesia. ….
But Obama didn’t like the messages coming from Washington in the 1980s, enormously successful as Reagan’s foreign policy turned out to be. Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1984 was followed by Obama’s bizarre turn to insular Chicago politics in 1985.
To sum it up: As a Muslimist by background, Obama likes Muslims in general, but he doesn’t much like Arabs in particular.
This formulation helps explain Obama’s lack of interest in the plight of Christian Arabs.