Obama's Hand Sign Reconsidered

In an American Thinker article published on February 18th that received over 180,000 views and 1,188 comments, F. W. Burleigh analyzed an AP photo taken last August at the United States-African Leaders Summit Conference in Washington, D.C. showing President Obama giving what appears to be a Muslim hand salute, the forefinger pointing skyward, the other fingers clenched, with the thumb wrapped around them.  This is the usbu al-shahada, signifying “There is one God and Mohammed is his messenger.”

But why should the President have made this gesture as he walked across the stage for a photo-op? 

In a response to a piece in Snopes dismissing his conclusion, Burleigh included a second video -- Snopes had posted one -- that seemed to provide an answer.   This video clearly shows that Obama made the sign in response to an off-camera voice.  What the speaker says is indistinct.  Burleigh identified it as “Allahu Akbar,” the takbir in Arabic, meaning “God is the greatest.”  The phrase is said in various contexts of course -- it opens the prayer repeated five times a day -- but for most Americans, it’s the war cry yelled by jihadists before executing infidels.  Major Nidal Hasan shouted it before murdering 13 soldiers and wounding 30 at Fort Hood.  So did the Charlie Hebdo killers.

The President’s hand sign now seemed to make sense.  In responding to a shout-out by a Muslim leader, Obama was expressing his solidarity with Islam. 

But an analysis by a forensic audio consultant disproves this.  Allen Combs of Seattle-based Combs Forensic Services created an enhanced audio.  Listen to it, and you will hear clearly that what someone says loudly, at eight seconds into the video, is “Barack Obama tripped.”   This is, of course, what had just happened -- the President stumbles on the top step, at three seconds.  The comment calling attention to this, audible even in the original YouTube video, explains the amused expressions on the faces of the prime minister of Morocco and president of Mali.  As for Faure Gnassingbé’s unhappy look, singled out by Burleigh, this could be from indigestion or for a hundred and one other reasons. 

Combs also enhanced the President’s words at ten seconds.  He may be saying “good for you” or “both of you,” though these are speculative. 

For techno-troglodytes like myself, Combs explained the procedure briefly.  Enhancing a video involves downloading it from YouTube, loading a software program to separate the audio from the video, adjusting the audio signal to optimal listening level, and applying basic equalization:  turning down low-pitched noise like rumbles and booms and high-pitched clicking and hissing sounds, and turning up the frequencies that make up human speech.  The volume of each speaker is synched, and noise-reduction software is loaded.  Sometimes the video is re-synched to the enhanced audio.

The best explanation for the President’s gesture is that it’s an awkward version of the forefinger jab -- signaling “Hey, how are ya?” -- that dates from the ‘70s.  The finger is normally horizontal, but the person the embarrassed President wanted to recognize was above and behind him.  What the president was probably trying to convey was something like a good-natured “You got me,” though neither the thumb-up sign that he attempts originally nor the pointing finger express this particularly well.  Whatever he had in mind, there’d have been no reason for him to flash the usbu al-shahada in response to someone calling attention to his undignified entrance on to the stage.

Burleigh’s reading of Obama’s gesture is understandable, though. 

The son and stepson of Muslims, the President was enrolled as a Muslim at the Besuki School in Jakarta and received lessons in what he calls to this day “the Holy Quran.”  In a 2007 interview he recited the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, with an excellent Arabic accent, and described it as “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset.”

When Obama joined Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ in 1988 -- to establish street cred and expand his political base, as the Reverend himself recognized -- he was “‘steeped in Islam,’” Wright told Ed Klein, “but knew little about Christianity.”  Little was required by Wright, whose sulfurous rants condemning whites, Jews, and America bear about as close a relationship to traditional Christianity as the Unitarianism of the President’s grandparents, who raised him when he returned to Hawaii at age 9.

Of course there is no record of Obama’s baptism.  And unlike nearly every President before him, he seldom attends Sunday services.

Then there are the now-famous slips.  During the 2008 campaign, Obama referred in an interview to “my Muslim faith.”  He told an audience in Cairo in June 2009 that he had “known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed” -- not a verb a non-Muslim would use.

This speech included many dubious claims about the Religion of Peace (“Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance,” “I know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story”).  The President’s promises at Cairo to “fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear” and to “protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it,” may strike a resonant chord with some civil libertarians, but his declaration at the UN three years later that “the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam” is positively chilling. 

These were the sentiments of the Kouachi brothers when they stormed the meeting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices on January 7.   Having taught constitutional law for twelve years, Obama, one would think, has a passing acquaintance with the First Amendment.  And, again, a non-Muslim would hardly be likely to use the terms “slander” and “Prophet of Islam.”  The speech was delivered shortly after the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, but this was the only reference to Islam in the President’s remarks.

Since then, the administration’s inability to acknowledge the obvious has become a joke even on the left.  As long as invocations to violence in the Quran are not renounced and Mohammed’s behavior not repudiated, any “jobs for jihadis” program is going to result in the “workplace violence” perpetrated at Fort Hood by Maj. Hasan.

For students of Presidential semiotics, there are still other signs, like the curious gold ring that the President has worn on the ring-finger of his left hand for more than thirty years. 

It became his wedding ring when Michelle Robinson slipped it back on during the ceremony.  Several scholars have identified the markings as stylized Arabic letters spelling out the beginning of the shahada:  “there is no god but Allah.”

Perhaps the most telling sign of the Obama’s true beliefs occurred at the beginning of his Presidency, on April 1, 2009, at a G20 conference in London, when he bowed reverently from the waist before Abudullah bin Abdul Azziz, King of Saudi Arabia and Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques.  This is not normal protocol.  No one who is not a subject of a king or queen is expected to bow before him or her.  No President has ever bowed to anyone.   It was a sign of submission (“Islam” in Arabic) to the ruler of a kingdom where non-Muslims are forbidden from practicing their religion, apostates are executed along with homosexuals and adulterers, and women cannot walk unaccompanied in public, drive, or vote, or marry, divorce, open a bank account, or accept a job without permission from their male guardian.

The hand gesture at the Summit Conference of African Leaders may not have been another such defining moment, but for a couple of other reasons, the event itself was significant.  These have to do with who was there and who wasn’t. 

Among the fifty dignitaries were some of the world’s most corrupt and repressive dictators.  While the presidents of Sudan and Zimbabwe were not invited, Obama wined and dined kleptocrats and murderers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, and other countries where civil and political rights are virtually non-existent.  Several of the leaders have been in power since the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Obama toasted “the New Africa” and apologized for the American slave trade at a dinner for the dictators, but did not mention human rights abuses.  Criticism of this is reserved exclusively for Israel.

Taking a pass on the gathering was Abdel el-Sisi, President of Egypt.  Sisi, a devout Muslim, has, unlike Obama, condemned radical Islam.  On New Year’s Day 2015, before the Charlie Hebdo murders, he bemoaned the fact that Muslims were now seen as “a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.”

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, Imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands.

Don’t expect the Sisi in the White House to ask Muslims any time soon to re-examine their beliefs.

Why did the President of Egypt boycott the festivities in D.C.? 

There can be little doubt el-Sisi resents the administration’s continued support of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the general rescued his country in July 2013, with overwhelming support from the Egyptian people.

Apart from Obama’s permitting Iran to continue its development of nuclear weapons, one of the most treacherous acts of his Presidency has been his facilitating the penetration of the Brotherhood into all levels of government.  There’s an enlightening series on this at the website of the Center for Security Policy.

Given the President’s comments on Islam, given his record, Americans, unless they’re professional journalists, are going to continue to look for signs that Obama not only sympathizes with Muslims, but at some level identifies with the religion of the prophet from Mecca.

The one silver lining of a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016 would be that we would quickly find out a lot we didn’t know about out stealth President.  On the evidence so far, it’s fair to say that in the sense that Bill Clinton was “the first Black President,” Barack Obama is the first Muslim President, and that the empowerment of Islam is going to be a priority for for remainder of his term.

But that evidence doesn’t include anything the President did or said as walked across the stage to his usual position -- front and center -- at the African Leaders Summit Conference last August.