Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama: No Offense, Mr. Churchill

It is no secret that Team Obama is all about symbolism and messaging. So presumably it was no accident that one of the new president's first gestures was to have a bust of Winston Churchill given to the United States by the British government removed from the Oval Office.

Mr. Obama didn't have it relocated to another prestigious location in the White House complex - say, the Cabinet Room or even the First Family's residence. Neither did he choose to put it on display in the Smithsonian, where this likeness of the greatest honorary American could have been enjoyed and revered by the rest of us. No, President Obama had it sent back to the British, who would be entitled to feel offended as well as appalled.

If indeed this explicit disassociation with one of the iconic heroes of the last century was meant to convey a symbolic message, the question occurs: Precisely which message and for whom was it intended?

Several possibilities come to mind. During his long career in various positions in the British government, Winston Churchill was closely associated with his nation's empire and worked manfully to preserve it as the sun began to set on its imperial holdings. Thanks to his own life experiences - notably, his Kenyan father and a formative stay in Indonesia - Mr. Obama clearly identifies with those colonized, rather than the colonizers. Perhaps, he wanted to serve notice of his solidarity with Mahatma Gandhi and the other anti-imperialist revolutionaries who struggled against Churchill and his government.

Alternatively, the banishing of the Churchill bust may have been part of the new president's campaign to "respect" Islam. After all, the former prime minister took a dim view of the Koran and adherents to the brutally repressive theo-political-legal program its authorities call Shariah.

Notably, Mr. Churchill wrote that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was "the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message." (Interestingly, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders - who will be in Washington later this week to meet with members of Congress, attend the Conservative Political Action Conference and hold a press conference - is currently being prosecuted by his government for having made a film, "Fitna" that reached a similar conclusion.) Clearly, Churchill's was not the sort of submissive "respectful language" Mr. Obama is promoting, perhaps with a view to beginning prosecutions here of those he, or others, consider to be "Islamophobes"?

Read it all here.

No comments: