Sure looks like it. “Did Obama Write Anti-Semitic Poetry?,” by Jack Cashill in the American Thinker, October 31 (thanks to Anne Crockett):
a 19-year-old sophomore, Barack Obama had two poems — “Underground”
and “Pop” — published under his name in the spring 1981 edition of
Occidental College’s literary magazine, Feast. If Obama wrote any other poems after that, they have not emerged.
“Pop,” the more sophisticated of the two poems, has attracted the most attention. As I argued in my book, Deconstructing Obama,
“Pop” dissects Obama’s relationship with his communist mentor, Frank
Marshall Davis, and was most likely written by Davis himself, a skilled
struck me as Obama’s own handiwork. It is as different in style and
substance from “Pop” as Obama’s early published essays are from his
memoir, Dreams from My Father, with which he also had help.
“Republishing this poem may have been the cruelest swipe an otherwise
friendly media took at Obama during the campaign,” I wrote dismissively
in my book.
Jim O’Hagan, who has made a study of the poem, believes that I may have been too hasty in my dismissal. He may well be right.
First, the poem:
Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.
friendly critic described the poem as a “vivid if obscurely symbolic
description of a tribe of submarine primates.” I countered, “Although
arguably the best poem ever written about submarine primates, most of
Obama’s literary acolytes have largely — and charitably — chosen not
to notice it.”
however, chose to notice. He points out that both of the poem’s most
conspicuous symbols, apes and figs, are mentioned in the Qur’an. Middle
Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis has argued that although Muslims were
relatively tolerant of Jews, there are at least three passages in the
Qur’an in which Jews are denounced as “apes.” In sura 5.60, for
instance, the Quran reads, “[Worse is he] whom Allah has cursed and
brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine.” “Swine” is
apparently the epithet of choice for Christians, but “Underground” is
not about swine. It is about apes — belligerent, boastful apes at
1981, when Obama submitted this poem, he was plotting his forthcoming
summer trip to Pakistan, a Muslim country. By all accounts, given his
education in Indonesia and his choice of friends in America, he was a
knowledgeable fellow-traveler in the world of Islam. By 1981, too,
Israel had emerged as a source of evil in the eyes of both radical
Muslims and the international left.
The reference to “figs” strengthens O’Hagan’s case that the “apes” refer to Jews, or at least to Israeli Jews. He cites the 95th
sura of the Quran, “At-Tin,” which translates as “fig” or “fig tree.”
It reads in part: “[I Swear] By the fig and [by] the olive/ And [I Swear
by] Mount Sinai/ And [I Swear by] this secure land [of the city of
Writes Muhammad Asad, author of The Message of The Qur’an,
“The ‘fig’ and the ‘olive’ symbolize, in this context, the lands in
which these trees predominate: i.e., the countries bordering on the
eastern part of the Mediterranean, especially Palestine and Syria.”
of “Underground” are left with only two real choices. They can write
it off as a silly undergraduate poem about apes that step on figs, as I
originally did, or they can interpret it as an allegory. If the latter,
it seems altogether possible that the poet believes that these warlike
apes, the Jews of Israel, are exploiting, even despoiling the land in
which they have settled. Note that the apes both “eat” the figs and are
“stepping on” them.
make a case that the “grottos” in question refer to the famous Rosh
HaNikra grottos in Israel, located on the Mediterranean just south of
the Lebanese border. The grottos are known for their startlingly blue waters,
but blue is also the traditional color of Israel as manifested in the
Israeli flag. In 1981, the year the poem was written, Israel was almost
continuously involved in repelling PLO attacks from Lebanon, a country
it invaded in 1978 and would invade again in 1982.