In January 2007, the smear that President Obama attended a "madrassa" as a boy was sparked by a vague Internet report, then spread by Fox News, and finally debunked by CNN -- within the span of a week. Right-wing media figures have continued to push the smear for years, and CNN contributor Dana Loesch joined the ranks yesterday.
During Loesch's radio show, a caller said: "Obama said -- when he was talking about Romney -- he was saying that he wasn't born with a -- he was talking about himself -- wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But he was born with a Quran in his hand."
Instead of correcting the caller by pointing out that Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim, Loesch said: "Well, yeah, I mean, he did study -- he went to one of the madrassas over in Indonesia for a while. So he knows -- I mean, he -- which is kind of like the equivalent in Islam of a Catholic school in Catholicism. So there's that."
Back in 2007, Obama's campaign made clear that Obama spent two years in a predominantly Muslim school while living in Indonesia, but that he did not attend what Americans think of as a "madrassa."
While the word generally means "a Muslim school," the American media have most commonly applied the word to schools that sprang up in South Asia after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and engage in anti-Western "political indoctrination."
Later, another caller took issue with Loesch's drawing a parallel between Islamic schools and Catholic schools:
CALLER: You know, I grew up in Catholic school. You know, I did eight years there. And, you know, we learned the Ten Commandments, we learned about God, turning the other cheek, loving thy neighbor. You've got books for these schools, these Islamic schools, that show them where to cut off appropriately for the hand and feet of infidels. You know, it's math, language, and then how to build bombs in these schools. You know, to say that it's --
LOESCH: Well, no, it's, it's --
CALLER: -- to compare it to, you know, Catholic schools --
LOESCH: [caller's name]
CALLER: -- is a little stretch.
Loesch clarified that she believes those schools are "analogous" to Catholic schools because Muslims "have schools that train up children in the doctrine, in the religion that they practice, just like in Catholicism." She continued:
LOESCH: Now, what they teach isn't the same. And I didn't say that what they taught was the same.
LOESCH: In our Bible -- and [caller], you know this, too. In our Bible, it doesn't say, you know, find the infidel where they lay and slay them. I mean, that's -- you know, the new covenant with man and the New Testament is all about love and forgiveness. And, you know, you read the Quran, which I have, and that's not in there.
The "madrassa" smear originally came from an anonymously sourced story on InsightMag.com, published January 17, 2007, claiming that "researchers connected to" then-Sen. Hillary Clinton had found that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." The article speculated that this "madrassa" might have taught "a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims." Within days, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage were all talking about the rumor on their radio shows. Fox & Friends spread the rumor on their show, even taking caller comments about it.
CNN debunked the story a few days later, sending a reporter to Jakarta to visit the school and interview a former classmate of Obama's, who explained that the Indonesian school is "a mixed school" in terms of the students' faiths (emphasis added):
[R]eporting 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."