Azubuike Ishiekwene: Is Obama the anti-Christ?

I first heard it from my son on January 20. As we joined millions around the world to watch the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on television, my 14-year-old son dropped the bomb.

He said the Internet was blazing with a controversy that the new U.S. president could be the anti-Christ, the great beast that the bible predicts will capture the world with his charisma and whose reign will only end after a fight to the finish with the messiah.

I asked my son if he thought it was true. He replied that he didn’t believe the rumors, but seeing the record numbers of people who braved the bitter cold to watch the historic event at the Capitol on that day—and the billions more watching on televisions around the world—he was not sure what to believe.

The world has gone crazy for Obama; his charm is beyond words. A mountain in Antigua may be named after him. He is every mother’s dream child. Millions worship daily at his portal. Some are even calling him The One (not “that one” as Sen. John McCain famously condescended). Yet, if charisma is all that is needed to be the anti-Christ, Obama will be in good company in a long list that includes Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Mohammed Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Harry Porter.

But the religious right-wing argues that it’s not about charisma alone. They say that he speaks with the beguiling empathy of the fallen angel, promising change on a messianic scale and hinting at the possibility that this change can only come about under a world government. Didn’t he say in Berlin that global citizenship is a requirement and not an option?

If the rhetoric of Obama as the anti-Christ was the fare of fringe blog spots and evangelical scaremongers on talk shows before November 4, the matter moved to the mainstream media after one of Obama’s first executive orders reversing the ban on funding international charities that perform or provide information about abortions and his approval of the first human trials of embryonic stem cells research.

The moves touched many a raw nerve and sparked a feeling among the right wing that their worst fears were about to come true—the resurgence of reason as the basis for public policy.

Obama seems not to wear religion on his sleeve. He’s certainly not as spirit-filled as Ronald Reagan, who scrapped the theory of evolution for that of creationism and yet despised the teaching of history in American schools, or George Bush, who smelled the Axis of Evil many thousand miles away but denied the reality of climate change.

Sure, as evangelicals, Obama’s support for abortion rights and same sex union makes us queasy—but if these are his mortal sins, they make him no more or less the anti-Christ than did Reagan’s love of shamans.

The conflict between those who seek to use science and reason to advance the common good on the one hand and religious demagogues on the other is centuries old.

Charlotte Pudlowski: Sarkozy, Pop Culture’s New Icon

While Barack Obama may be the talk of the town, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is well on his way to becoming a new icon of American pop culture. Down in the polls in France, at least he entertains America.

If proof is needed, consider the wildly popular American TV show Gossip Girl. In a recent episode, Nicolas Sarkozy’s amorousness merits a mention. “Apparently Sarkozy would be a bad kisser,” says the heroine, Serena, confiding to her boyfriend. And she knows something about it: the French president is allegedly her mother’s former lover.

In fact, Sarkozy has almost become a plot line. It is the second time this love affair has been evoked. A few episodes ago, a character recalled, “Don’t forget that weekend with Sarkozy, when he made us go to EuroDisney!” Bursts of laughter followed. What kind of a president would actually go to EuroDisney? Nicolas Sarkozy, in fact, who took Carla Bruni there in 2007.

“Gossip Girl is the kind of series that wants to be very current and topical—characters talk about hot topics,” says Sheila Marikar, an ABC News entertainment reporter. “He is one of the few international leaders who would be mentioned in such a trendy show.”

David Andelman, a former CBS News correspondent in Paris and current editor of World Policy Journal, underlines: “The fact that the French president is mentioned like that in Gossip Girl is a gesture that he is becoming a part of the pop culture in America. When I watched the episode with my wife, we were amazed. We replayed the scene a couple of times. Sarkozy is a rock-star president.”

The problem with rock and roll, of course, is that it’s sometimes hard to understand the lyrics. So too of Sarkozy: a lot of people still don’t know who he actually is, and his politics appear quite confusing in the United States.

David A. Andelman: A New Year, A Fresh Start?

Davis Andelman, EditorThe first Monday of the new year began in Baghdad with a unique debut: the ribbon-cutting for the world’s largest and most opulent American Embassy, and at the very moment the administration that made it most necessary (and least affordable) is headed for the exits.

We are indeed, as the Chinese proverb so aptly notes, living in interesting times. Some of Wall Street’s wisest prognosticators (if that is not an oxymoron in itself) are predicting a market surge this year that could rival that of 2000 when the Internet bubble was in full flight and companies with nothing but bottled air for products commanded stratospheric prices on the wings of inflated expectations.

Over the past year, our expectations have fallen to a new low, or at least our confidence. So does this signal a rock bottom of despair? Perhaps. How indeed could things get much worse than today?

There is always something worse. War in Gaza could expand to include southern Lebanon and Hezbollah, drawing Iran into the equation. Markets could resume their slide even in the face of mega-wealth pouring in from every leading central bank around the globe. The diplomatic packet on Monday from India to Pakistan detailing Islamabad’s role in last year’s Mumbai terror attacks could simply be a prelude to armed conflict along that always tense frontier. China could decide to stop funding the excesses of the American consumer, sending the dollar into a fatal tailspin. Oh, and then there’s oil: as desperate a case at $40 a barrel as $140.

Michelle Sieff: Banquets and Battles

Since I finished my article, “Africa: Many Hills to Climb,” for World Policy Journal’s 25th anniversary issue in October, the world has changed dramatically. A financial crisis has engulfed the developed economies. The American populace elected Barack Obama as president. And, Africa (the continent, not the country!) is a part of these world historical events.
Kenya declared a national holiday in honor of the election of Barack Obama, whose father was born in rural Kenya. Obama’s hybrid identity is a powerful symbol of Africa’s complicated relationship with the West. America’s most inspiring modern politician is but one generation from rural Kenya. This week, the African media outlet had a blogger in Kisumu, in western Kenya, who reported on the outpouring of joy at Obama’s election. If Kisumu sounds familiar, it should, for the city was the site of violent conflict after Kenya’s disputed election last December. But, this week, Kisumu’s residents were unified in their joy over Obama’s election.

Though Africa is intimately connected to American politics, fortunately, its growing economies have not been undermined by the financial crisis.

Mira Kamdar: India on Track for 2033 Predictions

Mira KamdarSomehow, I don’t feel cheered by indications in the month since I wrote my article for the 25th anniversary edition of World Policy Journal that India seems right on track to fulfill the mixed future I predicted in India: Richer, Poorer, Hotter, Armed. On the wealth front, cellular telephone company Bharti Airtel posted a net profit increase of 27 percent, Standard & Poor’s retained its bullish outlook for future economic growth, inflation snuck down under 11 percent and the stock market roared, snapped, roared and snapped again. In comparison with the continued panicked erosion of the financial markets and economies in the West, India seems poised to survive the global financial crisis not too bruised nor too battered. It will even, along with China, emerge with a new global say in the world’s financial architecture since it’s participation in a new G7 that will rise to some as yet unclear new number is now assured.

On the poverty front, India’s minister of finance, Palaniappan Chidambaram swore that slowed economic growth would not result in job cuts. Indeed, Jet Airways first fired then rehired hundreds of young workers who were shocked that the mall stalking they’d just begun to get used to being able to pay for might come to a sudden end. Even at a slower 7 percent rate, he opined, jobs would still be created though not as many as quickly as at a higher rate of growth. Of course, that doesn’t include India’s still moribund agricultural sector where the vast majority of its people still eek out a living and where growth is at a near-stagnant 2.3 percent. India’s Ministry of Agriculture released its fall or Kharif harvest projections a couple of weeks ago: production has declined across the board in basic food crops and cotton, on which great hopes were placed, increased by only 0.5 percent. Saving a few hundred service jobs in the airline industry cannot come near to compensating for this disaster. After more than 60 years of independence, India is still stealing from its farmers to push for the industrialization and urban development that will make it feel like a developed country. The poor, in other words, continue to be sacrificed to the rich and the newly minted and eagerly consuming middle class.