Friday, August 15, 2008

Raila dragged into attack on Obama

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Senator Barack Obama. 

By KEVIN J. KELLEY, Saturday Nation Correspondent, New York

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been thrust into the thick of the American presidential campaign in a new book being used to attack Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

The book, in which Kenya features prominently, depicts Mr Obama as a covert sympathiser of radical Islam and communism.

It has become the number-one best-selling book in the US, although it is typical of many politically biased books published during US elections for propaganda purposes.

Similar best selling attacks were published about former presidents Reagan and Clinton during their campaigns to reach the White House. Perhaps significantly both went on to win the presidency.

In May, right-wing activists in the US had attempted to use Senator Obama’s Kenyan links to discredit him. The activists had claimed that Mr Obama is Mr Odinga’s relative, whom they described as a “socialist who planned to introduce Sharia Law in Kenya”.

The allegations were motivated by a chain e-mail from Celeste Davis, an American missionary who, together with her husband, Mr Loren Davis, claimed to have worked in Kenya for 12 years. However, their scheme failed and Mr Obama went on to win the Democratic nomination against Senator Hillary Clinton.

This latest book — The Obama Nation, a deliberate play on the word “abomination” – written by Jerome Corsi contains many inaccuracies and distortions.

Mr Corsi, a well-known right-wing author, uses Mr Odinga in particular as a means of attacking Senator Obama on the two fronts of radical Islam and communism.

The Prime Minister, portrayed as a close associate of Senator Obama, is described as “a Muslim sympathiser with well-known communist political roots”.

At one point in the book, the author suggests that Mr Odinga might be a Muslim, even though, the book states, he “today professes to be an Anglican”.

Mr Odinga’s spokesman, Mr Salim Lone, last night trashed the allegations, saying: “You would think that the PM’s four months in office, and the role he played in restoring peace to Kenya and reconciling our people would have finally shamed into silence all of Mr Odinga’s demonisers.”

The new book also attacks Mr Barack Obama Snr, the senator’s father, who came from Siaya in Nyanza and who died in 1982.

The elder Obama is referred to as “an alcoholic polygamist” and a Muslim who gravitated to the “more extreme communist position openly advocated by and identified with Oginga Odinga.”

Mr Corsi was co-author of a book published during the 2004 US presidential campaign that is thought to have contributed significantly to the defeat of Democratic Party candidate John Kerry.

Like The Obama Nation, Corsi’s earlier work, Unfit for Command, portrays its target as a radical leftist who misrepresented his past to deceive American voters.

Unfit for Command took specific aim at Senator Kerry’s decorated service during the Vietnam war on a US Navy “swift boat”.

The Obama Nation shows clearly that Mr Corsi is now seeking to “swift-boat” the African-American senator who is set to be formally nominated later this month as the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential candidate.

The book distorts Senator Obama’s political views and associations – often by means of inaccuracies – in an attempt to destroy his image as a new-style politician able to bridge cultural, racial and ideological divides.

Senator Kerry lashed back at Unfit for Command, but his campaign’s response was considered slow and inadequate. Senator Obama’s camp, by contrast, launched a full-scale counterattack on The Obama Nation within a couple of days of the book’s appearance in shops throughout the US.

Detailed refutations of many of the claims in the book are posted on an Internet site sponsored by the senator’s campaign: www.FightTheSmears.com.

Vowing to “respond to these smears forcefully with all the means at our disposal,” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor declared on Thursday: “Jerome Corsi is a discredited liar who is peddling another piece of garbage to continue the Bush-Cheney politics he helped perpetuate four years ago.”

A recipient of a PhD from Harvard University, Mr Corsi works as a staff reporter for WorldNetDaily.com, a right-wing website that circulates conspiracy theories and outlandish reports involving monsters and end-of-the-world prophecies.

Mr Corsi says early in The Obama Nation that Kenya will play a key part in his “account because “Barack Obama himself tells us that Kenya is an important part of who he is, even today.” The book offers a series of “questions” based on the Senator’s alleged links to Mr Odinga.

It asks, for example: “If Obama were to be involved in Kenyan politics as US president, would his political goal simply be to stop violence, such as that which erupted after the recent election?

"Or would Obama seek to advance the same policy goals that his tribesman Odinga has in his co-presidency with Kibaki?”

Near the book’s close, Mr Corsi asks Americans to consider: “If Obama continues to support Odinga as Prime Minister, is he therefore accepting or condoning the post-election violence that brought Odinga to power, and a radical agenda from the left that would expand Islam in Kenya?”

The book’s first chapter focuses on Obama Snr because, Mr Corsi explains, “Barack Obama introduced himself to the American public with a book about his father.”

That 1995 autobiography was entitled Dreams from My Father, so Mr Corsi entitles this chapter “Myths from His Father.”

Mr Corsi argues in The Obama Nation that the senator downplayed or tried to hide his father’s alcoholism and polygamy in the 1995 book.

In response, the FightTheSmears.com website cites page numbers in Dreams from My Father in which those issues are discussed.

The elder Obama’s death in a Nairobi car accident was caused by his drunkenness, Mr Corsi writes.

Much is made of the Muslim heritage of the senator’s father. Mr Corsi writes that “the Obama family in Africa is a Muslim family of the predominantly Christian Luo tribe in the predominantly Christian country of Kenya.”

By repeatedly drawing connections between Senator Obama and Islam, Mr Corsi is playing upon anti-Muslim sentiments in the US that remain widespread and acute in the aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Senator Obama is in fact a practising Christian, but Mr Corsi implies that this religious affiliation may be a façade.

The Obama Nation delves into Kenya’s history, mainly through an account of the tribal and political roles played by Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga.

Despite the publisher’s claim that Mr Corsi carried out “meticulous research,” he gets some facts wrong in his analysis of Kenyan politics.

He says, for example, that the Orange Democratic Movement took its name from the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine rather than from the fruit used as the ballot symbol for opposition to the constitutional proposals rejected in a 2005 referendum.

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