In the movie The 13th Warrior, Antonio Banderas plays an Arabian poet, Ahmad ibn Fadlan ibn al-Abbas ibn Rashid ibn Hamad, who is exiled to the land of the Norsemen for coveting the wife of a powerful member of the Caliphate.
The character's Muslim religion comes into play throughout as Banderas is dragged along on an improbable and dangerous quest with the Viking king to a land beset by an unspeakable evil.
In the end, only a few of the original 13 warriors are left alive, albeit victorious, and as he sails back to his home on a Viking ship Banderas' last line is a prayer to Allah asking that he might become "a useful servant of God."
Fast forward on your home entertainment system to the made-by-the-media-epic "Barack's Totally Cool International Adventure" until you get to the part where the Ruler of the Known Universe Designate pays a visit to the Wailing Wall or Western Wall whichever you prefer to call it. There he takes part in a time honored tradition of leaving a written prayer in the cracks between the stones.
The prayer which I gleaned from no less than two dozen Internet sources states: "Lord, Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."
Is that an incredible coincidence or what? "Lord, Make me an instrument of your will" from Sen. Obama, compared to making Ahmad "a useful servant of God."
There is much passion and controversy over this incident because usually the papers on which such prayers are written are collected by a rabbi and burned in a sacred ritual.
But this was not a "usual" visit and Sen. Obama's prayer was "collected" by an unauthorized person, then passed on to a willing newspaper that promptly printed it. Pundits worldwide have spent the last two days denouncing the acts of collecting and printing the prayer, but then most of the denouncers also dissect it.
Personally I believe the theft of the prayer was no more than an attempt to see if Barack was going to say something kind about terrorists, or give a hint on his real feelings about Israel considering his contradictory statements on both issues. I don't think we can blame some Israelis for their concern about the true feelings of a man who could conceivably hold their lives in his hands.
Since the prayer has been in the public domain for a couple of days now I would like to take a deeper look inside it. That may be tough to do however, because I found it to be incredibly shallow and self-centered.
There is not one word in this prayer about giving him the strength and wisdom to do what is right for his supporters, his party, his country, or his (prematurely?)assumed status as leader of the free world. Nothing like that, just Obama and his family.
I don't take issue with thinking about his family, but if he wants to lead everyone else in the world, don't you think he could have given us at least a clause, if not a complete sentence?
Which makes me wonder if it is really a prayer based on the Christian religion? The Judeo-Christian religious tradition, from which Islam evolved, is not supposed to be about the individual, it is supposed to be about leading a good life by following God's word.
There are as many variations as to what constitutes God's word as there are denominations, but generally the basic thrust is the same. But I don't see that in this prayer, since concern for one's family could easily be interpreted as a selfish concern for oneself.
The next sentence is once again, all about Obama. (Somebody should use that line to compose a song.) "Forgive me my sins. Help me guard against pride and despair."
Once again, nothing about the affect he is having on others, how he might lead them down the right path. Nope, just 'forgive me, Big Guy, and let me enjoy life without getting to smarmy about it.'
The we move on to asking for help in "Doing what is right and just." OK, nice touch, but right and just for whom? Doing what is just and right as the assumed leader of the free world carries much larger implications and responsibilities than just watching out for your own rear end.
Then we get to the last line - 'make me an instrument of your will.' Did Barack lift that from The 13th Warrior and rewrite it a bit, or is this just a happy coincidence?
Many blog posts about his prayer have questioned whether Obama's speech writers penned it for him, and some even question whether Obama's campaign engineered the theft and publication. I don't believe they did in either case.
We have been told for about a year now that Obama has simply the best campaign staff and organization that has ever existed in the history of democracy. Thus, if an Obama campaign communicator had written the prayer it would have been much, much better. It would have had much grander references to world peace, togetherness, strength and wisdom to lead, and similar platitudes.
Doing what is just and right is something anyone, even someone of common birth, can include in a prayer. That's the kind of prayer you see a child saying at bedtime on family movies from the 50s.
No, if a campaign communicator had written that speech it would have gone something like: "Lord, Please bring peace to this troubled land, and safeguard my family, all who support me, and those I hope to lead. Help us guard against despair in this troubled time. Grant me the wisdom to follow the path toward peace and equality for all people, and make me an instrument of your will."
Professional speechwriters would have stayed away from personal sin issues since the first thing the media should have asked is, "What sin would that be, Senator?"
But still, that last line. Did Obama really think that up himself, or is he a fan of The 13th Warrior too? And if it came from The 13th Warrior is it a typical Muslim prayer request as opposed to something you might hear in a church or temple. Or, for that matter, is it pretty much a non-denominational, safe for all purposes, one-size-fits-all prayer request that you could hear just about anywhere?
There are many implications to these questions as Americans, the people who will actually vote for or against Obama, seek to find out more about the man behind the myth.
This is an important question for me especially, because if he got it from Antonio Banderas, it means that Barack Obama and I actually have something in common. I didn't think that was possible and it certainly doesn't mean I'll vote for him.
But, you never know, he might have a lot of time on his hands after November, in which case he can come over to my place, shoot some hoops, hang out and watch a few movies.
Saturday, July 26, 2008