What’s the difference between Obama and an Arab?

By Khaled Diab

has furnished compelling proof that is not an : the Democrat is a family man.

October 2008

Just to set the record straight: Barack Obama is not an Arab. If you don't believe me, I have it on good authority – John McCain said so. When a woman in the audience told the Republican candidate that she feared Obama because he was the scariest of all creatures, an “Arab”, the gallant McCain – who knows a thing or two about dodgy foreigners, having spent several years in captivity with them – assured her that the Democrat was nothing of the sort.

And how does he know? Because Obama is “a decent family man”.

Being an Arab myself and having lived among them for much of my life, I can confirm that McCain is not just the candidate with the most experience in foreign policy, he has also proven himself, with this penetrating insight, to be the one with the most knowledge of foreign societies.

Personally, I blame the whole sad situation on the pressures of modern life and the rat race. Family bonds are bound to break down when men are faced with the tough demands of building a career with a major multinational like al-Qaida.

How many fathers can spend quality time with their wives and children – especially when they have four of one and two dozen of the other – when they have to spend sleepless nights formulating devious and bloody plans to destroy the free world, brainstorm creative viral marketing and recruitment campaigns, and get the execution just right so as to make a killing on global financial markets?

Then, there are all the long business trips to distant places, like Tora Bora, and the gruelling but incomplete training modules, such as learning to fly but not to land, that keep many an executive up in the air indefinitely.

Besides, Arab men are too ambitious for their families' good: they chase promotion day and night in the cut-throat business of martyrdom in the hope of gaining access to the executive club in the sky, with its 72 sexy personal assistants and rivers of gushing vintage wine. In the process, most fall by the wayside, burnt out, their nerves shot to shreds, while their families are left to pick up the pieces.

As every good conservative knows, children are led astray when there is no father figure around the house. What kind of example is an Arab role model like Osama Bin Laden setting when he walks out on his family, joins a gang and goes so AWOL that not only social services but also the CIA and US army can't find him?

Of course, some limp-wristed liberal is bound to claim that she or he personally knows Arab men who are loving husbands and doting fathers. Well, that's just a show put on for your benefit. Do you know what goes on behind closed doors, I ask you?

Arab Americans may take offence to McCain's generalisation and are bound to protest that the family is the cornerstone upon which Arab society is built, and that Arab men generally take family matters very seriously. But what would they know? Self-deception and keeping up false appearances are universal Arab traits.

Yes, indeed, it must have been those delusional voices in my head that have persuaded my that my wife consider me a dedicated husband, my mum reckons I'm a loving son, and my siblings generally think that I'm a good big brother.

Come to think of it, the legions of caring Arab fathers, generous uncles, indulgent grandfathers, and strangers who make little kids laugh in child-friendly public places that I have encountered over the years must have been figments of my imagination. Of course, too many Arab fathers are a tad traditional and old-fashioned – although there are plenty of modern ones, too – but does that mean they are not decent family men? Republicans, after all, have a tendency of equating tradition with decency, and modernity with decadence.

Then again, it might be a grand conspiracy to convince the world that we Arabs are ordinary humans, too, while we quietly take over the world. Liberals, you have been warned, let your guard down against those wily Orientals at your own peril.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited's Comment is Free section on 16 October 2008. Read the related discussion.



  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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