Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Perils of Hosting an Open Community in the Age of the Excitable Right

If you want to have a blog on Barack Obama's site, he lets you set one up. The obvious risk is that you, for whatever reason, go off message.

All day today, the conservative blog Little Green Footballs has been making a sport of promoting these off message blogs. They don't, however, seem to be exercising much critical judgment. Some of the blogs they post may be legitimate left-wing kookery, but some are obvious put-up jobs.

For example, take this one "Jemaah Islamiyah For Obama," which purports to be an endorsement from the notorious Southeast Asian terrorist organization posted by "Fatima" from New York, NY.

Jemaah Islamiyah For Obama

We are a group that supports social justice for our oppressed Muslim brothers all over the world. We support Barack Obama for President because he is sympathetic to the plight of Muslims. He is a man of integrity, who will not be bullied by the neo-cons and the zionists. He will stand up for our oppressed palestinian brothers and sisters, whose land is being illegally occupied by that evil zionist entity whose name I just hate to even write.

Greetings Fellow Obama Supporters!
By Fatima - Mar 31st, 2008 at 10:13 pm EDT

Welcome to Jemaah Islamiyah! My name is Fatima, and I’m thrilled to be supporting Barack Obama for President. For now, we have a man of integrity, who will fight for the rights of Muslims everywhere. Allah has blessed us with a man who will stand up to the neoconservatives and the racist zionists. I believe with all my heart that Barack Obama will stop the American occupation of Iraq. No longer will American soldiers be able to kill our women and children with impunity.

Mr. Obama will also talk to Iran’s leader Mahmoud Amadinejad, whom the current chimp in the White House has treated so badly. I mean why should American and Israel be able to have nukes but not Iran? That is very unfair. Obama will right that wrong.

Furthermore, Senator Obama will take a much more rational approach in the Middle East. No longer will that zionist entity, whose name I hate to even write be able to oppress our Palestinian brothers and sisters with impunity. If anyone can stop the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, I know it is Barack Obama!

It's hard to articulate just how non-credible this is. The author's language is hyperbolic and occasionally derisive of her own purported positions. (Actual extremists, for instance, refer to Israel as the "Zionist Entity" without feeling the need to apologize for the term each time it is employed.)

Further, the author is preoccupied with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iraq war, and the United States' relationship with Iran. While those may be important themes for domestic political operatives because of their salience in the presidential campaign, they would be of vanishing importance to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), whose primary grievances are with the governments of Indonesia, Singapore and the Phillippines. It stands to reason that a bona fide adherent would at least make some glancing reference to the countries JI operates in. Obama spent several years growing up in Indonesia, so there's certainly a pretext for bringing Southeast Asia into the discussion.

I could go on and on about the incongruities in the piece (e.g. "I believe with all my heart that Barack Obama will stop the American occupation of Iraq. No longer will American soldiers be able to kill our women and children with impunity." Really? Supporting a presidential candidate by taking shots at American soldiers? And the Iraqis are "our women and children" but no mention is made of the history of the United States' presence in the Phillippines?) but the implication is clear. This is not honest advocacy. The author is trying to damage Obama by (a) linking him with a foreign extremist group (one the author knows precious little about) and (b) planting, on his campaign website, inflammatory anti-American language and misrepresentations of Obama's policy. It's not difficult to see who might stand to benefit from this gambit, especially if they themselves are able to popularize and promote it.

The Obama team probably should have seen this coming. Now that it has come, they should count themselves lucky. The first shots have been amateurish and transparently fraudulent, but it's easy to imagine a much more sophisticated and subtle effort doing some serious damage. Obama's team now has an opportunity to retool how they manage their community before that attack comes; they should seize it.

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