Luttwak and Obama’s “Apostasy”

"As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother’s Christian background is irrelevant.

Of course, as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He chose to become a Christian, and indeed has written convincingly to explain how he arrived at his choice and how important his Christian faith is to him.

His conversion, however, was a crime in Muslim eyes; it is “irtidad” or “ridda,” usually translated from the Arabic as “apostasy,” but with connotations of rebellion and treason. Indeed, it is the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder (which the victim’s family may choose to forgive).

With few exceptions, the jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools prescribe execution for all adults who leave the faith not under duress; the recommended punishment is beheading at the hands of a cleric, although in recent years there have been both stonings and hangings. (Some may point to cases in which lesser punishments were ordered — as with some Egyptian intellectuals who have been punished for writings that were construed as apostasy — but those were really instances of supposed heresy, not explicitly declared apostasy as in Senator Obama’s case.) "  Luttwak


Edward Luttwak was allowed to publish the above quoted oped in the NY Times today.  What do I think of it?

I think it is a poorly veiled attack on Obama’s candidacy.  I doubt if Luttwak was the originator of this attack.  I have heard it before.

I will not argue the Islamic law point, but my comment would be – So What!

Are Americans to allow Luttwak and people like him to influence their choice of president on the basis of a denial of religious freedom by people who generally have no use for freedom of choice in anything?

This argument originated overseas.  You can work out the point of origin for yourselves.  pl

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43 Responses to Luttwak and Obama’s “Apostasy”

  1. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Perhaps Luttwak has yet to assimilate American values. I suppose it is a little late in life for him to do that.
    Some biographic data on this subject of interest:

  2. Poicephalus says:

    the email address for those wishing to express their thoughts is:

  3. Grimgrin says:

    This does somewhat undercut the “Obama is a secret Muslim” argument doesn’t it? Because now the argument has to run something like this “Obama is a secret Muslim out to impose Taliban style sharia law on the US (Somehow) and when he does he’ll be decapitated”. You’d think Obama would have thought that one through a little better.

  4. dSmith says:

    Around twenty years ago Mark Alan Stamaty caricatured him as “Dr. Nuttflak” He is shown sitting in front of a Senate committee shrieking “WE ARE ON THE PRECIPICE!”. A footnote explains that this is just the way he talked, by saying that he meant what other people meant when they say “Good Morning, how are you?”

  5. Bobo says:

    Horrible to think that radical internet posts make it to the NYT’s.
    This is America where all have the right to run for President (within a few rules) no matter their Religion, Race, sexual preferences etc… The man has every right to pursue his dreams, never mind what you or I may think of him.
    As to the veiled threat we will deal with that if he wins.

  6. Tom Griffin says:

    Funnily enough, I came across the exact same argument this very day in an article that appeared last month on the FrontPage magazine website:
    The author there was Thomas Cushman, international patron of the Henry Jackson Society, signatory of the Euston Manifesto, and president of an obscure organisation called the Foundation for Modern Democracy.

  7. Montag says:

    An appeal to the Know-Nothings among the electorate of our Great Republic is like throwing manure against a wall in the hope that some of it will stick. Oh, we can’t condemn Obama for being born half-Black, but we CAN condemn him for being born half-Muslim.
    In the election of 1856 Republican candidate John C. Fremont was called a crypto-Catholic, despite being Episcopalian and baptising his children as such. But Fremont refused to publicly disavow Catholicism on the grounds that the campaign was about religious freedom, and this cost him votes. Anti-Catholic voters went to the Know-Nothing candidate, Fillmore, while some Catholic voters thought that Fremont was somehow himself connected with the Know-Nothings, and voted for the Democrat Buchanan instead–who won the election.

  8. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I was shocked that the NYT published this. “Poorly veiled attack” sums it up.
    Another way of saying “Obama is a scary Muslim.”
    As far as Luttwak’s premise, it seems to suggest that Al Qaeda types need the special jurisprudential reason of apostasy to try to kill an American president. As if.

  9. I’ll say it in another way: the argument is in itself un-American.

  10. colinski says:

    It’s been interesting to hear all the attempts to use Obama’s background against him through a guilt by association logic. Curiously, some of the same facts have been used to argue in opposite directions. Arab terrorists are either going to be “dancing in the streets” or they’re going to attack us because of his purported apostasy — in what I like to call the all roads lead to Rome argument.
    I expect that Obama’s background will slightly help our relations with the Arab world, but it’s hardly a reason to vote for or against him.
    However, perhaps the offended party here is the Islamic faith. And this may be diagnostic, since there are those whose interests are served by the continued vilification of Islam.

  11. wisedup says:

    the op-ed is a very interesting indicator of the disquiet of the neo-intellectuals. As to be expected, Luttwak sets up a straw man — Obama will improve relations with Muslim countries because of his father — in order to suppress the idea that better leadership will yield better relations; an extremely unpopular meme to the oligarchy.

  12. Buzz says:

    How does something like this op/ed warrant being printed in the first place?
    I’m mystified at the standards being used unless it is just that controversey (no matter how stupid, useless and counterproductive) equals traffic and thus dollars.

  13. Stormcrow says:

    What on earth has happened to Edward Luttwak?
    This is the man who wrote “Coup D’Etat”, “Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace”, and “The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire”. All of these are clearly works of a first-rate thinker.
    When the Cold War ended, he seemed to go to pieces intellectually. He tried to reinvent himself as an economist, a subject about which he knows relatively little. It felt oddly embarrassing to read this later work, and watch a man with an excellent mind make a fool of himself in public. The cobbler should stick to his last, Luttwak should have stuck to military strategy.
    Now he permits his name to be attached to things like this.
    What has happened to him?

  14. walrus says:

    There is no question that Hillary is beholden to AIPAC and Obama appears to be less so.

  15. jonst says:

    Green Zone,
    I’m “shocked” alright, that this was published in the Times. “Shocked” the way Claude Rains’ character, in the movie Casablanca, was “shocked” there was gambling going on at Rick’s Cafe.
    Agree with Col…if one had the resources and the time it would be interesting to demonstrate where “overseas” this nonsense (but deadly nonsense)oozed out from.

  16. Guthman Bey says:

    The point of origin? I think there are two points of origin. Two points dead-opposed in theory, but chronically colluding in practice.

  17. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Tom Griffin,
    Excellent lead to Thomas Cushman, professor of sociology at Wellesley.
    Some biographic data on this subject of interest at
    The latter notes his presence at Birkbeck College, University of London 2005. The Euston Manifesto was signed also by a professor at Birkbeck.
    Additional Neocon line quotes from his attack on Obama in Frontpage Mag:
    “It is troubling, I might add, to consider that candidate Obama has already indicated his willingness to negotiate and barter with some of the more despotic leaders of the Islamic world. This is something which is “known” about Obama. The great unknown is what the consequence of such friendliness toward these leaders might be.”…
    “who would the Islamic world prefer to win? It is reasonable to think that it would be the man who wants to surrender Iraq, make peace with and appease dictators who wish harm to the United States, and work within the United Nations and the illiberal blocs who dominate that institution.”
    FrontPage Magazine is part of the David Horowitz apparatus. For this subject of interest see,

  18. Michael says:

    When he was at the same school as me in NW London around 1960, this overpowering, over enthusiastic, brown nosed and aggressively self opinionated individual was known to his fellow students as Eddie Luttwank.

  19. rjj says:

    I think Luttwak found the perfect hook for an old scrap of agitprop.
    We do need repeated reminders that

    This is not what we are. This is not what we do.

    Grateful to PL for providing them.

  20. OKAY let’s be straight, a number of American President’s under today’s international standards might be accused of war crimes. Still they acted based on their basic beliefs for the most part and only the American voter and history hold them accountable. If in fact this op-ed is a correct statement of Islamic Law and the Quran then it is time that a thorough analysis of the doctrines espoused in that document be made available in English to the American people. Reason, clearly, the dogmatism and ideology expressed in the Quran by what I have seen available in English falls far short of any accuracy. Since 1000 flowers bloom to paraphrase Mao in the context of who can definitively interpret the Quran unlike some other religions, then is the only view possibke of the language in that holy book that captured by Luttwak or is some other interpretation possible? A related question is has any other commodity shaped history as much as oil appears to being doing? And has any other commodity had a similar influence on religious beliefs? By the way who can definitively interpret the Bible or the Torah? I really don’t know myself the answer to any of this but interested definitely.

  21. Leigh says:

    Luttwak may have been a “first rate thinker” at one time, but as an economist, not so good. As a psychologist, he’s even worse. The idea that a child who has been deserted by his Muslim father and raised by his Christian mother and grandparents would, as wisedup notes, improve relations with Muslim countries because of his father — that’s insane! If anything, it would be just the opposite.

  22. Burgette Mobley says:

    I’m a “born-again agnostic” so this means nothing to me so far as voting for or against Obama. I think many religions have a way of dealing with those who reject the religion of their birth. I don’t believe you can be born into a religion but others do, although this seems to go beyond “excommunication”. The question that came to my mind was: What effect would this Muslim perception have on a president’s ability to interact with Muslim governments. Would this require a “fatwa” and could a Muslim government be forbidden to interact with negotiators who represent a government headed by someone under such a pronouncment?

  23. jamzo says:

    in the interest of knowing more about who is speaking i queried wikipedia about edward luttwak
    while it appears to be like a professional resume posted on wikiepedia it clearly shows the luttwak’s political position
    Edward Luttwak
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    This article or section includes a list of references or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks in-text citations.
    You can improve this article by introducing more precise citations.
    Dr. Edward Nicolae Luttwak (born 1942) is an American strategist and historian known for his many publications on military strategy, history and international relations.
    Luttwak was born into a Jewish family in Arad, Romania, raised in Italy and England. He attended the London School of Economics and Johns Hopkins University, where he received a doctorate. His first academic post, before moving to the United States, was at the University of Bath. In 2008, he became a Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C..
    He served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, the US Department of State, the US Navy, US Army, US Air Force, and several NATO defense ministries. He was a member of the National Security Study Group of the US Department of Defense, and an associate of the Japan Finance Ministry’s Institute of Fiscal and Monetary Policy. With three partners, he established and operated a self-sufficient forest-conservation ranch in the southern amazon basin.
    Luttwak has been a frequent lecturer and consultant, and has developed a reputation for original policy ideas, suggesting for example that major powers’ attempts to quell regional wars actually make conflicts more protracted.[1] His book Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook is perhaps his best-known work; it has been reprinted numerous times, and translated into 14 languages. His “Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace” is widely used as a textbook on the subject.
    The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third is controversial among professional historians. Luttwak was resented as an outsider and non-specialist in the field, but his book raised a lot of questions and started a whole new wave of scholarship on the Roman army and Barbarians on the frontier. Luttwak asked “How did the Romans defend the frontier?”, a question that he argued had been lost in the noise of professional discourse of demographics and economics and sociology. Although many professional historians reject his views on Roman “strategy,” his 1976 book has revitalized the study of Roman frontiers. Since the 1980s he has published articles on Byzantium and is the author of the forthcoming “Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire”.
    Luttwak, during his childhood, spent a few years in Italy, between Palermo, in Sicily, and Milan. He speaks Italian and is frequently cited by Italian media on political subjects; he also co-authored two books in Italian (with Susanna Creperio Verratti, political philosopher and journalist): Che cos’è davvero la democrazia (“What Democracy really Is”), 1996 and Il libro delle Libertà (“The Book of Liberties”), 2000.
    He served on the editorial boards of Geopolitique (France), the Journal of Strategic Studies, and the Washington Quarterly. He speaks English, French, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish and other languages.
    [edit] Against humanitarian intervention
    He argued that humanitarian intervention should not happen at all. He claimed that it might be best for all parties to let minor wars burn themselves out.

  24. Richard Whitman says:

    Is Luttwak smoking illegal substances??

  25. Mark K Logan says:

    The propagandists need to get on the same page this this. Am I supposed to hate Obama because he is a Muslim, because the Muslims like him, or because they hate him?
    It’s all so confusing..
    Came across a particularly
    hilarious quote of Luttwak
    that I though to share. “Ex-Cons: Right Wing Thinkers go Left!”
    by Corey Robin
    “Pointy-headed bureaucrats also sapped the military’s strength, according to
    Luttwak. Always looking to cut costs, Pentagon officials insisted that
    weapons, machinery, and research-and-development programs be standardized.
    But this only made the military vulnerable to enemy attack. Standardized
    weapons systems were easily overcome; having overwhelmed one, an enemy
    could overwhelm them all. When it came to the military, Luttwak concluded,
    “we need more ‘fraud, waste, and mismanagement.'”
    Oh my..

  26. Montag says:

    Luttwak reminds me of what FDR’s Vice President John Nance (“Cactus Jack”) Garner said about the 1938 Kristalnacht Pogrom in Nazi Germany, “The hotter the fire the quicker it’ll burn itself out.”

  27. The letters section of the New York Times is full of considered ripostes to Mr. Luttwak, from people who ought to know:

  28. GSD says:

    I raise to make a motion to heretofore refer to this pundit as Ed Lutte-whackjob or Edward Lutte-wanker.
    All in favor?

  29. Ed Webb says:

    Today’s Times has a slew of letters pointing out why Luttwak’s piece was just a pile of stinking Luttwak. Perhaps the NYT editorial team planned it that way, bait and switch for the Islamophobes?

  30. Jackie Shaw says:

    Seven people wrote to the NYTimes today totally disagreeing with Mr. Luttwak. I am really glad Senator Obama had so many people covering his back. I also wonder where Mr. Luttwak got his editorial material.

  31. JohnH says:

    Luttwak has also been spewing garbage at Shimon Peres’ President’s Conference for the 60th Anniversary of Israel (which should have been called the Bomb Iran Conference): He “declared that Iran’s reformers would actually welcome a sharp outsider’s attack on their nuclear facilities. No other panelist disputed his suggestion, which was greeted with much applause from a largely Israeli audience.”
    Sounds like Israel is spoiling for another fight (the last one having gone so well). If they keep this up long enough, someone is bound to do them the favor they seem to be begging for and put them out of their existential angst.
    Or perhaps they can just dial up their protectors in the White House and sic them on Iran. Bush seems to be spoiling for another fight just as much, the last few having gone so well for him…

  32. condfusedponderer says:

    you mentioning of the caricature with Mr. Nuttflak shrieking “WE ARE ON THE PRECIPICE!” gave me something to grin about ever since I read it.
    And I agree, there obviously is a concerted anti-Obama campaign underway that revolves around Obama being crypto-muslim/apostate-muslim and him being insufficiently devotional towards Likud. It comes as no surprise that David Frum laments that Obama is being ‘cavalier with Israel’s security’.

    I do not believe that Obama is in any sense hostile to Israel. I am certain that he would be honestly disgusted by anti-semitism in any form. But do I believe that he would be cavalier with Israel’s security? That his belief that anything can be negotiated and that dialogue is always the answer exposes America’s allies to risks? That his understanding of the origins and causes of the Arab-Israeli dispute is dangerously wrong? That he will “engage” Hamas and Hezbollah for exactly the same reasons that he will seek to “engage” Iran and Syria? Yes I do. He may consider himself Israel’s friend. But he will be a dangerous friend …

    … because he is willing to appease evildoers rather than defeat them (with the neo-con strategerery for certain victory: In the absence of means, if need be, through sheer inflexibility and willpower).

  33. arbogast says:

    This is (only very, very slightly) off-topic.
    Luttwak is one of those who are promoting pre-emptive war against Iran.
    And I am beginning to wonder what is holding these arm-chair attack dogs back.
    Could it be that the respective militaries of Israel and the United States are saying, “No”?
    Could it be that the effort to drum up popular support for such a military adventure is, in fact, an effort to persuade members of the military that they would be supported by civilians if they obeyed these orders?
    I am beginning to suspect that the military is not on board…in either country. Do not forget that the military was deeply divided in Israel over the “war” in Lebanon.
    And recall also that nothing, absolutely nothing, not even close, has strengthened Hezbollah and Iran more than Israel’s “war” against them. Israel gave Hezbollah more legitimacy in a few weeks than it had gained in many, many years without Israel’s help.

  34. Will says:

    martin kramer wrote the same column.
    emphasizing the Husain middle name, of course.
    not to worry, the obama baby is firmly under the guidance of David Axelrod.

  35. Cloned Poster says:

    Arbogast, it would appear that Lebanese military were sane in the past few days. Paid off?

  36. FB Ali says:

    Juan Cole in his blog today deals with the issue of whether there is any basis in Islamic jurisprudence or tradition for this ridiculous assertion. Worth reading by anyone who has even the slightest doubt that there may be some basis to this hogwash.

  37. Arun says:

    I read the NYT op-ed by Luttwak as a call to the set of Muslim fanatics who do exist out there to attempt an assassination.

  38. Tom Griffin says:

    Funny that hadn’t occurred to me. Although I had a similar thought in another context where a neoconservative was labelling a political opponent as a traitor:

  39. Jim says:

    Just a couple of clarifications: apostacy is definitely considered a terrible thing in Islam, but the nasty reprocusions are limited to those who accept Islam, live as muslims and then change their minds later on. It seems from Obama’s past that he was never raised as a muslim, never accepted it as his religion and as such would not be considered an apostate.
    Further, Islam is a religion, not a race. I think the notions of “your father was a muslim therefore you must be a muslim” are more in line with Jewish traditions- you are considered a Jew if your mother is Jewish, irrespective of your own personal religious beliefs – this is conflation of racial with religious identity. While in Islam (and Christianity etc etc) there is a natural presumption that if your parents are a given religion that you follow up, that’s nothing like a hard & fast rule – especially given the facts of Obama.
    Even more, in Islam, everyone is presumed to be born a muslim (i.e. recognize one God etc etc) but that due to circumstances beyond your control you may be turned away from Islam (i.e. your Christian parents bring you up as Christian). This is why in the religious liturature, someone does not “convert” to Islam, rather they “revert” to Islam. That said, Islam does not consider all Christians to be apostates – far from it. As people of the book, Christians and Jews (and some limited others) are specifically named as people to be tolerated. The Koran specifically says that God is fine with having multiple religions. A side note, a bit of a technicality, but it does say something about the nature of apostacy. Obama would not be considered an apostate by the _vast_ majority of muslims – though there’s always some looneys out there.

  40. Arun says:

    More on this:
    1. The Christian Science Monitor follows the lead of the New York Times:
    2. Some commentary on all of this, including a partial traceback of the origins of all of this:

  41. Rob says:

    Shireen Burki can certainly prove Luttwak’s point about Obama’s apostasy:
    Burki, like Obama, has a Muslim father and a Christian mother and studied Islam in Pakistan as a child. She is well-qualified on the subject of apostasy from Islam and correctly described Obama as murtad fitri.
    There are still many ex-Muslims out there, living and hiding in fear of their lives simply because they made a personal choice to leave Islam and could be subjected to death threats of beheading. It’s just not right to live and deal with it.

  42. Patrick Lang says:

    For me the issue is not the Shariah law point, but rather whether or not we should allow this kind of medievalism to influence American politics.
    The answer clearly is NO! pl

  43. HawkOfMay says:

    A comment from the New York Times public editor (ombudsman) Clark Hoyt on the Luttwak Op-Ed piece, “President Apostate?”.
    To quote the last line:
    “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.”
    Entitled to Their Opinions, Yes. But Their Facts?

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