NYT has second thoughts about “Sharia smear” on Obama

June 2, 2008

New York Times front page, 1 June 2008Thank you, Clark Hoyt. The public editor (ombudsman) of the New York Times has torn apart Edward Luttwak’s op-ed piece on Barack Obama supposedly being a Muslim apostate, right in the Grey Lady’s pages. In his Public Editor column on Sunday, Hoyt called it “a single, extreme point of view” and said the NYT should not simply publish opinion pieces based on patently false facts. We blogged about this last week when a leading Muslim scholar refuted Luttwak’s article. Luttwak is a military historian and  conservative analyst of strategic issues who has advised the U.S. military, National Security Council and State Department. He lists his fields of expertise as “geoeconomics, strategy and national strategies and military policies” but not Islam.

“The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions,” Hoyt wrote. “But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture.”

Hoyt said he consulted five Islamic scholars at U.S. universities and “all of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.” When the Times asked Luttwak to defend his view, he sent them an analysis of it by an unnamed scholar of Muslim law. He disagreed with Luttwak so strongly that he wrote to him: “You seem to be describing some anarcho-utopian version of Islamic legalism, which has never existed, and after the birth of the modern nation state will never exist.”

The public editor also noted that the Muslim world, far from being “horrified” by Obama’s supposed apostasy as Luttwak predicted, has shown no interest in this argument. That jibes with what we found. After Luttwak’s article appeared, Reuters correspondents looked around for public reactions in the Arabic-language media and found nothing. We decided not to actively seek out responses from experts there because that would only highlight an opinion we thought was wrong anyway.

Chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix at the U.N. Security Council at the U.N. in New York, 25 November 2002/Chip EastOne other point stood out. When Hoyt told him what the five different Muslim scholars had said, Luttwak retorted by accusing them of presenting a “gross misrepresentation” of Islam. Doesn’t this sound like the way the neo-cons disputed pre-Iraq war intelligence reports, dismissed U.N. inspectors (like Hans Blix at left) who found no weapons of mass destruction and argued the war would be a push-over? It turned out that was mostly opinion not based on facts too — and the Times had to issue what Slate’s media critic Jack Shafer called its “mini-culpa” for presenting some of these WMD opinions as fact in its news reporting.

As Hoyt concluded, “with a subject this charged, readers would have been far better served with more than a single, extreme point of view. When writers purport to educate readers about complex matters, and they are arguably wrong, I think The Times cannot label it opinion and let it go at that.”

We got some comments to our original post on this issue that defended Luttwak’s point of view. One said that an article challenging his thesis was “completely off base, misses the point entirely and is a waste of time to read.” Any rethinking going on out there after reading Hoyt’s critique?

105 comments

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It’s an opinion piece for crying out loud. The author should be able to state it as he sees fit. If there are factual inaccuracies, they can easily be addressed in a rebuttal ran at the same time. I’d rather have alternative or ridiculous views out in the open where they can be repudiated on a large scale rather than have them circulate unchallenged in murky weblogs and endless, semi-anonymous chain emails.

Posted by darnold | Report as abusive

” – -and after the birth of the modern nation state – ”

Could you please define what this term means??

Posted by G.C. Morris | Report as abusive

Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong. And he knows it. It was a case of deliberate misrepresentation of facts to achieve ulterior motives. He was on a mission of his own. It is good that NYT did not allow him OpEd to go unchallenged. I would go on to use Bob Dole’e words describing a former White House Press Secretary, to describe Luttwak as “a miserable creature”.

Posted by michael | Report as abusive

Quite simply, if Hoyt had been anywhere near the mark, it would have touched a nerve in Muslims around the world, rather than the yawns and head-scratching that we’re actually seeing. Perhaps Hoyt thinks too much within the confines of his own brain and needs to listen more before publishing his thoughts.

Posted by Kevin Kautz | Report as abusive

Luttwak is the “expert” who predicted, before Gulf War I, that Saddam’s battle-trained army would inflict severe, heavy casualties on our U.S. and allied forces. Was he ever held accountable for this?
The pundits and talkers on the right speak mostly to their blindly-loyal base, and when events prove them 180 degrees out of phase with reality, they simply make other pronoucements.

Posted by Nat Ehrlich | Report as abusive

with regard to the islamic scholars who reviewed the original article .. I would recomend that you take Al-taqiyya into account..
Al-taqiyya and dissimulation are words used for a practice of Muslims blatantly lying to non-Muslims. All but some of the most fundamental Muslims consider the act of Al-taqiyya or lying to non-Muslims to be a good work. This is very important when one remembers that, in Islam, salvation is determined by good works. This means that a Muslim lying to a non-Muslim is, that Muslim is doing a good work to earn salvation.

This is particularly important when one realizes that the only work which can guarantee salvation for a Muslim is to wage war against and kill non-Muslims or at least support those who do wage war against and kill non-Muslims. It is only logical that to lie in support of a war against non-Muslims could guarantee salvation for a Muslim because it would be considered supporting the war. This is a very powerful motivation for any Muslim to lie to any non-Muslim for any reason but especially when concerning any war, military effort, or obfuscation as to the interpretation of sharia law to non-Muslims.

Posted by HB | Report as abusive

I’ve never known to the “Conservatives” to let facts change their beliefs.

The article by Mr. Luttwak had basic facts correct. Actually his understanding of what an apostate is, and the consequences for being one under Sharia Law is correct. It is also true that many, if not all, of the modern conflicts of genocide around the world have at the root, a desire by the Islamists to implementa Sharia Law . . . which is also the “rule of law” which governs the country. The result is a Taliban-like world. Iran and Saudi Arabia both do stand-up jobs in implementing Sharia law. The need for oil makes strange bed-fellows.

It is true from a practical matter, that Sharia-based governments don’t themselves act on some of the law. They also either don’t prosecute, or just ignore individuals who do. Otherwise, no non-Muslim could ever set foot anywhere on the Arabian Penensula . . . the holiest ground in all Islam. Even Sharia Law has rules for how to treat invited guests. That, however, doesn’t prevent some nut-bag (in Western eyes) from trying to be literal about interpreting the law . . . especially if a fatwah is issued by someone like Osama bin Laden (an authorized fatwah-maker under Sharia law) in some form or other advocating such action. A Fatwah is a ruling, or interpretation based on the Koran or Hadith.

Frankly, there are worse threats that an American President must face, and Mr. Obama is certainly up to the task. Preventing America from ever being governed based on any religious law, whether Christian, Jewish or Islam is a good step.

Posted by Mel Walker | Report as abusive

Kevin Kautz, I think you mean Luttwak instead of Hoyt in your comment.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Karl Rove and the rest of the ‘mind control’ neo cons are aware that about 1/3 of the population act on fear with disregard for fact or logic. How else does one explain the fop, Bush jr., gathering enough votes to be close enough for the 3 million ‘scrubbed’ minority voter’s disenfranchisement to put liars back in the whitehouse.
This is not an opinion. Read a real reporter’s documentation. I’m talking about Greg Palast. Have some balls! You may edit the harsh talk but the truth will linger.

Posted by Jim Limbach | Report as abusive

The part of Hoyt’s piece that I thought was probably most significant: “Luttwak said the scholars with whom I spoke were guilty of ‘gross misrepresentation”’ of Islam, which he said they portrayed as ‘a tolerant religion of peace;’ he called it ‘intolerant.’” In other words, Luttwak’s OPINION is that Islam is an intolerant religion, and all of his interpretations are based on that opinion. The trouble with Luttwak’s piece is that he stated his interpretations without clearly stating his opinion of the religion he was interpreting. He presented his Op-Ed piece as a statement of fact, rather than phrasing it as the poorly-informed opinion that it is.

Hmm… Scholar opinions differ widely between Sunni and and Shiite Islam. Strange that no one mentioned which branch they were talking about. If Obama lived in Iran, he would undoubtably be legally persecuted for apostasy from Islam. Look up what they do to members of the Bahai faith there.

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

unsubstantiated brain leaks belong in the blogosphere – not in the NYT or other solid institutions of journalism.

Posted by Jay Casey | Report as abusive

The article was an opinion about Mr. (Mu) Barack Obama (Osama? Any etymology available re “Obama”) Is Mr Obama an apostate or not? It was nothing to do with the theology of Islam.

Anyway, you americans are going to pay for your hero worship, In the modern world it is words that have impact, well demonstrated with Mr Obama’s campaign. Lots of talk and nothing of substance. Imagine Mr. Obama is going to get rid of all nuclear warheads in FOUR YEARS. How, he never said. We will wait to see if you all follow Mr. Obama like lemmings

Posted by Abdullah al Thani | Report as abusive

It doesn’t seem that extreme to me. If Obama’s father was a Muslim, isn’t it possible that Obama was a Muslim too? And now that he is not a Muslim, wouldn’t that make him an apostate ipso facto?

Posted by Fred | Report as abusive

What do you expect of the neocon crowd. They were able to lie their way to a horrendous war – one million killed, two and a half million refugees. Obama ins’t one of them. They hate him. He’s of no use to their agenda

Fred, ipso facto that would make him one. HOWEVER, to be an apostate in Islam, you have to be raised in an environment where Islam is taught, and you are knowingly a Muslim and claim to be one. I don’t think Obama ever considered himself nor called himself a Muslim at any point in his life.

Posted by Tennessee Vol | Report as abusive

This is the paper that features oped pieces laced with poison by Maureen Dowd? And they’re having “second thoughts.” Please. Nonsense. And Sam has a good point. To our “dearest” Islamist fundamentalists, Obama is an Islamic apostate. And, by the way, “that part” of this “religion” attacked New York on September 11th, 2001. Hearing an apology for that is comparable to waiting for Fr. Pflegler to apologize to a certain candidate for president. I’m sure the NYTimes won’t “let it happen again.” We need to unite behind “the candidate” and by all means, censor the truth.

Posted by Mandelay | Report as abusive

“The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” by the noted and authoritative scholar Robert Spencer should settle this if anyone cares to read the real truth about Islam.

I am amused by the reference above to “mind control neocons” which of course assumes they have some sort of mind to control. The truth will linger??

Posted by jim peterson | Report as abusive

I thought Edward Luttwak had retired to his beloved South of France to enjoy a blissful life among the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”. What on earth is he doing picking a fight with Barrack Obama?

Posted by gulfbridge | Report as abusive

For once someone has decided to smear Obama. Hillary and McCain have been the target of every lie on the planet. This op-ed piece could well be the truth. Nobama! hides many aspects of his life until the press uncovers them. Op-eds are for opinion, hence the OP in op-ed.

Posted by Lavanc | Report as abusive

Edward Luttwak is a typical Washington huckster/policy con artist who began life as a Soviet “expert,” tried to reinvent himself as an economic guru in the ’90s (with laughable results) and who has now latched on to Islamophobia as his ticket back to the big leagues. And the New York Times — always a sucker for an inside-the-Beltway think tank pedigree — fell for it.

How pathetic.

Posted by Peter Principle | Report as abusive

However what one might think about Obama “abandoning” his church – seeming an act of opportunism – Clark Hoyt didn’t refelct in his article either.

And that’s how Christians feel.

Posted by Matthias | Report as abusive

This is not about the content, but the concept. Do not ever allow those with the opinion of darnold to influence the decisions of the media. They want to be able to say anything (without consequence), call it “OP-ED” and make everyone go out do all the research to determine all the falsifications. The reason I read the NYT, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, etc. is so I DON’T have to do that.

There is already places for this kind of writing in the National Enquirer, Star, all the grocery store tabs. There are plenty of them. Besides if darnold wants inaccurate, false, unsubstantiated news, keep watching FOX, or ABC News.

Posted by J. Brett | Report as abusive

If claims like Luttwak’s succeed in convincing America that Obama is Muslim, then the Republicans long-standing opposition to education and intelligence for all Americans will have been a success.

Keep them stupid and you can convince them of anything,as long as you’re waving a flag or hold up a cross. Pathetic.

Posted by Matt Bryant | Report as abusive

This is for Sam and Fred. Fellows, I do not know where you get your “Facts” from. but Mr. Obama would not even be considered a Muslim. The fact is that he choose to be a Christian and that is what he will remain to be unless he choose another religion. Just because a person father belongs to a religion dies not mean that person is a member of that religion. I know of people who’s families are steeped in one or another religion and they do not even believe in God. The fact is when Mr. Obama’s father left him, Mr. Obama was too young to declare any religion, and it is one of the five pillars of Islam that a person makes a declaration(Shada) before thay are considered a member of the community. Therfore it would be impossible for Mr. Obama to have been a Muslim simply because his father was one. Also he would not be considered an apostate, because one must first embrace the religion and than not only reject it, but set out to destroy its teachings, by lying or misrepresenting it in a false way.In Islam, just as in any other religion, a person is free to choose another religion if they wish, but just as in other religions that person would be looked upon as bad, wrong, or evil if he/she tried to get others to renounce the religion just because they chose not to worship. There is a lot of misinformatiion out there for those who choose not to find the facts, or react only to what is happening to uneducated Muslims who are easily lead down the wrong path, but for those who want to find out what Islam is really about, they are welcome to come into any mosque or any other gathering and actully witness what is really going on. I would suggest that as Muslims live here, work here, and pray here that there is all kinds of ways to explore and learn about the religion. I would never form an opinion based on what I read in a newspaper or see on T.V.I would have to investigate the subject matter myself, because I was taught that “the only way to know a thing,” (is to know a thing.)

Posted by We The People | Report as abusive

Hoyt’s ‘opinions’ are patently false? The world is flat, there is no gravity, and the 6000+ year old global warming trend is man made! It is just amazing what young people will put into their mouths. We are watching history in the making. ‘Son of Dan’ (Qauyle) Barack Hussein Obama is an emotional child running for President of the USA that says that there are 52 states, Afganni’s speak Arabic, and his Grandfather was in the Soviet Red Army during WWII. Don’t believe in gravity, take a long walk on the roof of a tall building. Don’t believe that the ‘Son of Dan’ has a heavy pro-radical Islamic background? Most good Christian mamma’s name their boys Barack Hussein…don’t they?

Posted by Jon Iscream | Report as abusive

do i really see a true identity of Americans?well,that’s it.its a taboo for a black american to hold any importatnt position in white-led america and obama is falling pray to this.had he been white-american muslim the author would have found some sweet phrases to priase
him.poor obama!you are black and and had a once-muslim- black dad.

Posted by ally | Report as abusive

Time and again when all weapons fail,people resort to using whatever they can as weapons.Clintons are using their old contacts to have a favorable decision rain on them.A bit too late but nevertheless persistent!Good that Hindus dont have fatwas….otherwise the republican apostate-Bobby Jindal would long have been the target!

Posted by mb | Report as abusive

“The article was an opinion about Mr. (Mu) Barack Obama (Osama? Any etymology available re “Obama”) Is Mr Obama an apostate or not? It was nothing to do with the theology of Islam.”

Uhm…the etymology of Obama? Are you deranged? Who cares??? That’s like going back and vilifying anyone with the name George, Bush, Adolf, Maggie, etc. It’s moronic, which pretty much sums up your entire point.

Posted by Roger Casement | Report as abusive

my biggest problem with clark hoyt is that he feels that he has the right to practice censorship and force all readers to only his approved point of view.

i thought that america is the land of free speech. all things written or said should be open to any interpretation. perhaps it can shed new light. what makes hoyt think that only his and only his chosen “scholars” can interpret ganythin correctly.

i suggest that even within islam there are various different interpretations of things including islam. why else do you suppose that even the shiites and the sunnies can not get along.

Posted by TK Liu | Report as abusive

True or false, what’s wrong with being a muslim? Why is calling someone a muslim a smear? I thought religious freedom is guaranteed by your constitution. Or is that a smear, too.

Posted by Zzz | Report as abusive

Aren’t all zionists expert on islam? Just as they are relentless experts on pro-israeli propaganda?

Posted by Carolyn A | Report as abusive

I saw this apostate stuff all over the web and had no idea of it’s source. It didn’t have to be true, it has accomplished it’s propaganda goal. I am stunned that it originated at the New York Times. Are the editors that naive or were they complicit? Believe me this rebuttal piece is not going to get nearly the play the first piece of misinformation did. I expect that “apostate” will continue to be heard throughout the campaign.
The only thing the neocons do well: media manipulation.

FINALLY !!!

Someone in journalism who tells the smear machine of the GOP to get lost. The republicans Know they can’t win in 2008, so it’s time to ‘swift boat’ Obama with the “gee, he’s a muslim” crap.

6 1/2 years the GOP ran every branch of this country. We got: NO Immigration Reform, NO Heathcare Reform, NO Border Security, NO Entitlement Reform…and of course NO BIN LADEN.

The gop and mccain can’t win because they’ve got no good ideas to run this country….but hey, they sure can smear Obama….

Posted by dectra | Report as abusive

We agree wholeheartedly with the commenter who derided the NYT as an institution of journalistic integrity. Indeed, Maureen Dowd’s endless monotonous anti-Clinton ravings which, btw, are often based on factual inaccuracies and nearly always based on illogic. The remainder of the “Op-Ed” page (the entire paper has degenerated into an Op-Ed page), is more of the same garbage to varying degrees.

We are Dems who will not vote Obama for a laundry list of reasons, including that we refuse to live in an America where the media decides the Pres. The media keeps steering Obama as Pres, yet even as it pronounces him the anointed one, the pesky will of the people keeps squeaking through voting otherwise.

Posted by Veritas | Report as abusive

One’s religion is not determined by birth, race, genda or location. Faith is personal. No one, no parents governments,nor laws can force it on anyone .At least, not here in the USA. You don’t have to have your parents’or your country’s religion , if there is ever such a thing .Religion is a free and delibrate choice made by an adult. Children can be born into any religion. They only become a member of a particular religion when they become adults and accept it. Your sharia law and therefore apostasy does not apply here. Obama chose to be a christian when he became an adult.He did NOT convert from Islam to Christianity.No apostasy. No sharia law. Luttwak should get his facts, his expertise right if he has any.

Posted by jim page | Report as abusive

I believe Hoyt did us and the NYT a great service. Luttwak’s contribution was of course assinine. But as a daily reader of the NYT I was, sadly enough, not surprised to see it appear. The Times endorsed Clinton and since then has been using a variety of stratagems–both fair and foul–to advance her cause. Q

Posted by Quentin | Report as abusive

Islam allows “peoples of the Book” to exist under shar’ia as long as they remain subjugated peoples. That includes a prohibition on evangelism and conversion. Anti-conversion laws dominate the Islamic world. These laws represent a belief that Islam is the supreme revelation of God. Once a person accepts it, that person cannot revert back to a previous state. Apostasy is a threat to the global goals of Islam. If Obama was a Muslim, he is an apostate Muslim from the perspective of Muslim jurisprudence. That is the fact that the Islamic scholars in America and editors seem to ignore. Bill Payne, Ph.D. Professor of World Religions and Intercultural Studies

Posted by Bill P. | Report as abusive

Obama is so closely associated with terrorists and anti-American such as Ayers, Wright, Farrakhan and Pfleger and he and his wife have shown their displeasure with this mean nation as she put it, the National Anthem and our flag that he is a stealth candidate with a mixed loyalty masquerading as a Christian.

NYT and “most” of it’s cowardly cadre of spin doctors have too long been free to spew not-so-well concealed hate for democracy. Harsh criticism? You bet. The 1st Amendment carries with it this implied doctrine: Wrap yourself in me, but do so in truth and with facts, not with seditious and warped rhetoric designed to destroy the very institutions that delivered your freedom on a bloody plate.

Anyone. Is there an honest and unbiased journalist anywhere in America these days? Left or right, liberal or conservative; these polarizing labels do not set well with those of us in search of fair and balanced reporting.

Posted by tradamerica | Report as abusive

Let me say that, as a voter that is concerned about the future of this great country, currently there is no good candidate for president.

Obama definately has Muslim ties. Anyone that does not believe that has been brain washed. That said, I will not express MY OPINION as to how deep those ties go.

Rev. Wright expressed what are clearly radical Muslim views. Obama has never said “I disagree”. He sat under this man for 20 years. Either he was not listening, or he does not want to admit that he agrees.

So what if he’s a muslim. For Christians that are willing to stand in defiance of Jesus; it is bad news indeed, if they are fearful of dying.

Face it; this country is doomed no matter who gets in office. Look around. We have but one saving grace and He is being removed from public life quickly and efficiently. Our own government is doing everything it can to take the place of God. And we allow it.

Posted by Kelly | Report as abusive

Luttwak obviously understands Islam better than Tom Heneghan. Here Heneghan only recites the common misinterpretations of Islam found throughout Western cultures. Muslims bomb and kill and behead apostates all the time in Sharia law countries. Luttwak has enough experience to know that and his article is an attempt to protect Obama, not discredit him. It is sad to see that people are jumping on Luttwak for this. Please read the Koran and the Hadiths before deciding that Islam is a peaceful religion. Please understand Taqiyya before letting “5 Muslim scholars” protect the terrorists in the U.S. and abroad.

Posted by Jeff Weber | Report as abusive

Obama has more anti-American friends and associates than any politician since Benedict Arnold

One more thing; with all the moral equivalency between Christianity and Islam spin coming from the NYT, I’ve decided to study the Koran in order to form an objective opinion.

Does anyone at the NYT realize that Muhammad was a serial pedophile? By his own confession he was a pedophile, misogynist, torturer, murderer, and calculated liar. Cripe, it’s all right there for the reading. Where are the stewards of truth at the NYT?

Christ was a prophet of peace and love.

Muhammad was a cult leader of misogyny, pedophilia, murder, and torture.

It’s all right there for the reading.

Posted by tradamerica | Report as abusive

What is a muslim indeed?
I was born what many would call a muslim because my parents were muslims themselves.

Now, this said,
I married a protestant woman in a protestant church (doh!)
My 3 children (2 girls, 1 boy) were baptised in a protestant church (doh!)
My little boy will most likely never be circumcised (or baptised according to the islamic rites) (doh!)
My favorite drink is gin & tonic (although I must say, having been a father for 7 years, I don’t seen many of them these days (doh!)
I eat pork (there is nothing like a smoked ham sandwich) (doh!)
And perhaps worst of all, I seem to express myself like Homer Simpson.

Now, does that still mean I am a muslim?
What makes someone a muslim, if not their own beliefs? Is religion anchored in everything you do or say?
Perhaps, if Obama says that he isn’t a muslim, it is sufficient to make him a non-muslim.

And by the way, this rethorical about lying to deceive non-muslims as a way to achieve “muslimness” is pure stupidity and serves only as an excuse to win an argument which should only be solved by the involved party, that is Obama himself.

Now, I’d like to answer my own question: Yes, I consider mylself a muslim. I do not follow the Coran to the letter, just like common sensible christians do not see the meaning and judgment of their entire life through the bible.
I value other’s freedom, starting by my wife’s. If my children want to convert later, let it be.

Apologies for any typos/errors that might have offended purists: I am not a native speaker of English.

Posted by Abdel | Report as abusive

Whether he is wrong or not, much of the middle east under Islamic law is illiterate and will blindly follow what their religious leaders tell them to do. He could be wrong on his interpretation based upon American Muslims, but we have seen over and over again how Islam in America is practiced differently than Islam in other parts of the world.

Posted by JR | Report as abusive

Luttwak should take his hot air and go make balloon animals at kids parties. They love colorful fabrications. Times are too trying to be relying on such poor quality information as he presents.

Posted by R. Atkinson | Report as abusive

It’s completely irrelevant to bring Jindal into it. He converted from Hinduism, which like Christianity, has thousands of sects, and has no concept of apostasy within it. In their core texts the idea of many paths to the same goal is frequently repeated. So that’s irrelevant. His past religion does highlight the influences behind his arch-conservative beliefs, but that’s all.

From all the facts so far presented to us on the NYT op-ed piece, the most meaningful one, to me, is the idea of the Muslim age of consent. A child whose Muslim father has abandoned his Christian mother is understood to become a Christian, we are told. Doesn’t that close the case?

Posted by snakespeare | Report as abusive

@HB:
You really need to learn to form your own opinions.
If you look at history neither Islam or Christianity has any real claim to being a religion of ‘peace’, both have spilled copious amounts of blood on the pages.

Try to be better than Luttwak… actually read the Koran before telling us what is says.

Posted by breagerey | Report as abusive