A lot of Azerbaijanis think that Barack Obama is a Muslim. People love it though. Unlike America, where this misrepresentation of Obama is meant to hurt his image, people here really dig the fact that a Muslim is in such a prominent position. So it really confuses people when I say “Actually, he’s not a Muslim.” I’ve gone back and forth with people about this before, and they usually will admit that I know what I’m talking about, but it’s come up again thanks to a crappy translation.
It all stems from a few sentences Obama’s recent visit to Turkey and his address to the Turkish parliment:
We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them.
I don’t know exactly how it was translated in the news, but after the speech in Turkey, a fellow PCV told me that a lot of people were coming up to him and telling him that they saw on the news that Obama is a Muslim. I wouldn’t put it past the local news to make such a claim, and no one was really talking to me about it, except to tell me that they saw Obama was in Turkey and that he’s a yakshi oglan (good boy).
But when I went to school today, I was talking shop with a teacher of mine and he told me about what he’d seen on the news. Without getting too deep in the translation, he told me that Obama said “My family is Muslim” rather than “My family has Muslims,” which are pretty similar sentances in English and Azeri. I explained the difference and after a bit of a back-and-forth, he conceded. I think he actually won the argument though, because he ended with, “Well, that’s what the news said.”
In the quest to correct misinformation, I seemd to have won the battle but lost the war.