In a NewsMax.com column, Lowell Ponte falsely asserted that Sen. Barack Obama could "become the first American president whose thinking was shaped by childhood in a Muslim madrassah in Islamic Indonesia." The claim that Obama was educated in a madrassa has been thoroughly debunked by several news organizations.
In a January 4 column on the conservative website NewsMax.com, Lowell Ponte, "a NewsMax pundit and Contributing Editor," stated that Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) victory "in lily-white Iowa speaks loudly to the world about America." Ponte elaborated by falsely claiming that "[t]his charismatic young candidate could -- Inshallah [Arabic for "God willing"] -- become the first American president whose thinking was shaped by childhood in a Muslim madrassah in Islamic Indonesia." In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted numerous times, the claim that Obama was educated in a madrassa -- which the conservative website InsightMag.com first reported, attributing the rumor to "sources close to [a] background check" allegedly "conducted by researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) -- has been thoroughly debunked by several news organizations. For example, CNN reported on January 23, 2007: "Allegations that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a 'madrassa' are not accurate, according to CNN reporting," citing a report by CNN correspondent John Vause, who visited the school in question. The Associated Press reported on January 24, 2007, that "[i]nterviews by The Associated Press at the elementary school in Jakarta found that it's a public and secular institution that has been open to students of all faiths since before the White House hopeful attended in the late 1960s." And ABC News reported on January 25, 2007, that the school was a "normal government public school without even a hint of the extremist elements reported by various conservative news outlets" and noted that the purported link to Clinton's campaign is "unproven and unsubstantiated."
As Media Matters has also noted, Vause reported during the January 22, 2007, edition of CNN's The Situation Room that he had visited "Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta" and stated that he's "been to madrassas in Pakistan, and this school is nothing like that."
From the January 23, 2007, CNN report:
[Vause] 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."
From Ponte's January 4 NewsMax.com column:
It seems that Americans do, indeed, want a change from the prospect of dynastic ping-pong, of being family-ruled alternately by Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.
For Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose mother was born and raised nearby in Kansas, his victory in lily-white Iowa speaks loudly to the world about America.
This charismatic young candidate could -- Inshallah -- become the first American president whose thinking was shaped by childhood in a Muslim madrassah in Islamic Indonesia.
John Edwards' second place finish reminds us that Iowa's caucuses are not what most of us think of as free elections. In Iowa's Democratic caucuses voters must openly declare their choices in front of a group that can include friends, employers, co-workers, and union bosses.