Robert Gibbs, the chief spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, issued a rare memo on Wednesday, on the two-part smear campaign started by Insight Magazine and picked up by Fox and other outlets: that Obama was educated at a radical Islamic school in Indonesia that bred extremists and that researchers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton surfaced the information. It was an effort by a conservative outlet to take down two 2008 presidential contenders at once and make Obama seem like a character on "Sleeper Cell."
Neither was true. CNN sent a reporter to Jakarta to check out the school and showed in words, interviews and pictures that it was secular in nature. That there were female students also made the point that the school, in an upper class neighborhood, was no madrassa.
Gibbs' memo does not mention Clintons' name. What's interesting is that he is explicit for the first time I recall in saying that Obama "has never been a Muslim." That clears up a small point in the Obama biography, now under a microscope as he starts a White House campaign. Obama moved to Jakarta at age 6 and returned to Hawaii four years later.
It should not matter of course, if Obama or anyone was raised as a Muslim or any other faith. The threats posed by Islamic militant fundamentalists are something else.
Click below for the full Gibbs memo.
To: Interested parties
From: Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs
Re: Debunked Insight Magazine and Fox News smear campaign
In the past week, many of you have read a now thoroughly-debunked story by Insight Magazine, owned by the Washington Times, which cites unnamed sources close to a political campaign that claim Senator Obama was enrolled for “at least four years” in an Indonesian “Madrassa”. The article says the “sources” believe the Madrassa was “espousing Wahhabism,” a form of radical Islam.
Insight Magazine published these allegations without a single named source, and without doing any independent reporting to confirm or deny the allegations. Fox News quickly parroted the charges, and Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy went so far as to ask, “Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised — spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father — as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?”
All of the claims about Senator Obama raised in the Insight Magazine piece were thoroughly debunked by CNN, which, instead of relying on unnamed sources, sent a reporter to Obama’s former school in Jakarta to check the facts.
If Doocy or the staff at Fox and Friends had taken to check their facts, or simply made a call to his office, they would have learned that Senator Obama was not educated in a Madrassa, was not raised as a Muslim, and was not raised by his father – an atheist Obama met once in his life before he died.
Later in the day, Fox News host John Gibson again discussed the Insight Magazine story without any attempt to independently confirm the charges.
All of the claims about Senator Obama’s faith and education raised in the Insight Magazine story and repeated on Fox News are false. Senator Obama was raised in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother. Obama’s stepfather worked for a U.S. oil company, and sent his stepson to two years of Catholic school, as well as two years of public school. As Obama described it, “Without the money to go to the international school that most expatriate children attended, I went to local Indonesian schools and ran the streets with the children of farmers, servants, tailors, and clerks.” [The Audacity of Hope, p. 274]
To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa.
These malicious, irresponsible charges are precisely the kind of politics the American people have grown tired of, and that Senator Obama is trying to change by focusing on bringing people together to solve our common problems.
Below please find facts and citations rebutting the claims in the Insight Magazine story to help inform your editorial discussions about this issue. Attached also please find a letter from an ecumenical coalition of religious leaders denouncing this brand of negative politics.
CNN Reporter: I've Been to Madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Obama's Indonesian Elementary School Is Nothing Like That. On January 22, CNN Reporter John Vause reported, "I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta, looking for what some are calling an Islamic Madrassa, like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.. I've been to those Madrassas in Pakistan and Wolf, this school is nothing like that." [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
CNN: Former Students Said It Was A Mixed Public School That Did Not Focus On Religion. CNN's Vause reported, "There are religion classes once a week - most of the 450 students are Muslim, and are taught about Islam…the handful who are Christians, learn that Jesus is the Son of God. The deputy headmaster tells me he's unaware that his school has been labeled an Islamic Madrassa by some in United States, and bristles at the thought." Hardi Priyono, the school's Deputy Headmaster, said, "This is a public school we don't focus on religion…In our daily lives, we try to respect religion but we don't give preferential treatment to." Bandung Winadijanto, a classmate of Obama's, said, "It's not Islamic School, it's general, there is a lot of Christian, Buddhist also Confucian . . . so that's a mixed school." [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
Indonesian Embassy: Besuki School Attended by Barack Obama "Has Never Been an Islamic Madrasah Type of School." In an informal communication, the Indonesian Embassy stated that "Sekolah Dasar Negeri 04 Besuki in Menteng, Jakarta, Indonesia has always been a public school. It has never been an Islamic madrasah type of school." [Email From Indonesian Embassy, 1/19/07]
CNN Reporter: Obama's School Taught A National Curriculum of Science and Math, Students Were "Neatly Dressed In Uniform," and Teachers Wore Western Style Dress. In front of boys and girls playing in the quad of the school, Vause reported, "In the quadrangle of this elementary school - boys and girls, aged from 6 to 12, neatly dressed in uniform - playing together, just as a young Barack Obama would have done almost 40 years ago." In front of a science class, "Here they're taught science and maths." Vause said, the school, "'Besuki' elementary follows a national curriculum, just like it did in the sixties and seventies…take a close look at Obama's teachers, women and men, all in western style dress." [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
CNN Reporter: Obama's School Was One of the Wealthiest In Jakarta, Down the Road From the US Ambassador. CNN reporter Vause said, "Basuki is typical of almost all Indonesian public schools - except this is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Jakarta, the US Ambassador lives up the road...and this school is probably better off than most." [CNN, Situation Room, 1/22/07]
Time's Joe Klein: Attacks On Obama's Elementary School Are "Laughable" Given the Moderate Form of Islam Practiced in Indonesia, Especially in Those Days." Time's Joe Klein wrote, "The effort to slime Barack Obama has begun in the slimiest possible way." Describing attacks on Obama's elementary school, Klein wrote, "Now, this is nonsense of course. Obama's stepfather was not a Muslim extremist (among other things, he worked for Shell Oil). Obama attended public school for two years in Indonesia, in addition to the two years he spent in catholic schools--although, as Obama's staff points out, Indonesia is a Muslim country, so the public schools undoubtedly reflect the dominant relgious culture. The notion that the Obama's school was a Wahabi madrasa is laughable, given the moderate form of Islam practiced in Indonesia, especially in those days." [Time Blog, 1/22/07 , http://time-blog.com/swampland/2007/01/disgusting.html]
Main Radical Islamic Movement in Indonesia Crushed in 1962; Obama Attended School There Beginning in 1967. Indonesia's indigenous radical Islamic movement, Darul Islam, was crushed in 1962 by Soeharto's army and because they "failed to gain support from mainstream Muslims." The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims remain tolerant and inclusive, as they have been traditionally described." Barack Obama attended school in Indonesia beginning in 1967. [US-INDO Conference, 2/7/02 ; "Dreams from My Father," 1995]
Militant Madrassas Linked to Taliban Did Not Emerge Until Late 1970s, Early 1980s. Madrasah is the term used to describe an Islamic religious school. However, the type of madrasahs linked to the Taliban did not emerge until the Afghan war against the Soviets. During that war (1979-1989), a new kind of madrasah emerged in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region -- not so much concerned about scholarship as making war on infidels, and financed by Saudi wealth. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/01 ]
Indonesian Islam is "Tolerant, Inclusive, [and] Compatible With Democracy." "Azyumardi Azra, Director of the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN), said it is 'simplistic' to think of Indonesian Islam as the same as Islam in the Middle East. Because of its slow, peaceful penetration over centuries, accommodating to and integrating with local beliefs and customs. The conventional wisdom of Indonesian Islam as tolerant, inclusive and inherently compatible with democracy is valid." [US-INDO Conference, 2/7/02 ]
FULL TEXT OF CNN STORY
CNN debunks false report about Obama
• Report alleges Illinois senator attended radical Muslim school as a child
• CNN reporter visits Indonesia school in question, sees no radicalism
• Former classmate calls school "general," with multiple religions
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Allegations that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a "madrassa" are not accurate, according to CNN reporting.
Insight Magazine, which is owned by the same company as The Washington Times, reported on its Web site last week that associates of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, had unearthed information the Illinois Democrat and likely presidential candidate attended a Muslim religious school known for teaching the most fundamentalist form of Islam.
Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, from 1967 to 1971, with his mother and stepfather and has acknowledged attending a Muslim school, but an aide said it was not a madrassa. (Watch video of Obama's school)
Insight attributed the information in its article to an unnamed source, who said it was discovered by "researchers connected to Senator Clinton." A spokesman for Clinton, who is also weighing a White House bid, denied that the campaign was the source of the Obama claim.
He called the story "an obvious right-wing hit job."
Insight stood by its story in a response posted on its Web site Monday afternoon.
The Insight article was cited several times Friday on Fox News and was also referenced by the New York Post, The Glenn Beck program on CNN Headline News and a number of political blogs. (Watch how the Obama "gossip" spread)
School not a madrassa
But reporting by CNN in Jakarta, Indonesia and Washington, D.C., shows the allegations that Obama attended a madrassa to be false. CNN dispatched Senior International Correspondent John Vause to Jakarta to investigate.
He visited the Basuki school, which Obama attended from 1969 to 1971.
"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school, told Vause. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."
Vause reported he saw boys and girls dressed in neat school uniforms playing outside the school, while teachers were dressed in Western-style clothes.
"I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa ... like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Vause said on the "Situation Room" Monday. "I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that."
Vause also interviewed one of Obama's Basuki classmates, Bandug Winadijanto, who claims that not a lot has changed at the school since the two men were pupils. Insight reported that Obama's political opponents believed the school promoted Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam, "and are seeking to prove it."
"It's not (an) Islamic school. It's general," Winadijanto said. "There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian. ... So that's a mixed school."
The Obama aide described Fox News' broadcasting of the Insight story "appallingly irresponsible."
Fox News executive Bill Shine told CNN "Reliable Sources" anchor Howard Kurtz that some of the network's hosts were simply expressing their opinions and repeatedly cited Insight as the source of the allegations.
Obama has noted in his two books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope," that he spent two years in a Muslim school and another two years in a Catholic school while living in Indonesia from age 6 to 10.