I never got around to commenting on this picture of Senator Obama in Somali tribal garb--either in print or on TV. But there are several points worth returning to now that presidential race has hit a welcome lull.
As esteeemed colleagues have noted, it is indeed logical to place the senator's African dress-up photo-op in the Great National Photo Album of US leaders who have been cajoled (I do hope because they always look so darn ridiculous) into wearing the traditional dress of the countries they visit.
But there is more to consider here. It starts with the type of garb the Illinois senator chose to appear in on this 2006 trip to Kenya: Somali tribal garb. It is historical fact that America has suffered two recent cataclysms in this Kenyan/Somali region. In 1993, it was the Battle of Mogadishu, popularized by "Black Hawk Down," in which 18 US special ops soldiers were killed by, well, Somali tribesmen. (One or more of the corpses of our men were later dragged through the streets of the town.) In 1998, there was the Al Qaeda attack on two US embassies, one in Tanzania, the other, of course, in Kenya. It strikes me as only natural to feel some vague unease over a potential US president costumed thus. I don't think such feelings would well up if, for example, Obama were photographed wearing the robes of Masai warriors. This isn't to suggest Obama is in leagues with Somali belligerents; but it does beg the question about his own reasons or feelings about the incident. Any voter unease, it should be noted, might well be laid to rest by such a discussion. In our PC world, however, we are reflexively conditioned to supress both our questions and our unease.
Another point to consider is that the original caption descibes the man arranging Obama's tribal dress as a sheikh (not just a "tribal elder"), which indicates that he is likely a Muslim religious leader.
Doesn't this necessarily ring a bell on Obama's Muslim roots? When George W. Bush dresses up as a traditional Vietnamese, he's more or less in costume; when Obama takes the garb of a Somali Muslim it recalls an issue Americans haven't heard fully (or even partially) discussed.That is, we have all heard by now that Sen. Obama was born a Muslim, attended a madrassa as a child, and eventually embraced Christianity in his late 20s. But what are the implications of his early religious background as potential president in dealing with the Islamic world? This, we have heard nothing about. Indeed, it is another question, another funny feeling, that we are supposed to supress.
Here's just one implication:
Unless we learn that Obama in fact became a Christian before puberty, he is in all likelihood considered an "apostate" under Islamic law. Islamic countries adhering to Islamic law regard "apostasy" a capital crime. Andrew Bostom recently discussed an essay by an Iranian ex-patriot that expressed concern about what would happen to a hypothetical President Obama on a hypothetical trip to Iran where the death penalty for apostasy has recently been made even more stringent. Shouldn't Islam and apostasy (not to mention Obama's thoughts thereon) be worthy subjects to explore in choosing a president?
Not in our society, a place where maybe a picture is only worth a thousand words when you get to use them all in a good, public airing.