May 24th, 2017

About Sirhan Sirhan’s religion

I noticed mention of Robert Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan in the comments section yesterday, to wit:

[Calling terrorists “evil losers”] is the single strongest blow against Evil Losing Islamic terrorists since Sirhan Sirhan murdered RFK.

And commenter Bill wrote in response, “I’ve looked at this sentence twenty different ways and I still don’t know what it means. Especially the RFK part.”

I don’t quite know what the sentence means, either, except perhaps that its author was trying to date the assassination of RFK as one of the first acts of Islamic terrorism on our shores. We can quibble over whether an assassination qualifies as terrorism (usually people place it in a separate category, but I think that’s a bit picayune). But one thing I most definitely want to clear up is the misconception that Sirhan Sirhan was a Moslem. He was not.

In March of 2011 I wrote this post about Sirhan because he had been denied parole for the 14th time. I reproduce a portion of the post here.

When I heard the news of the parole denial, my first thought was, “Why is this man still alive?” After all, he assassinated a presidential candidate in full view of a crowd of people.

The answer is that, although he was sentenced to death in his trial, the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, before his execution had taken place. The way that sort of thing works is that, even though he was sentenced when executions were allowed, the ruling was retroactive. And even though executions were re-instituted in California in the late 70s, his re-sentencing to life in prison (with possibility of parole) during that small window of opportunity stands.

It is a common misconception that, because Sirhan was a Palestinian angry at RFK because of what he considered his pro-Israel stance, the assassin must have been a Muslim. He was not; he was a Palestinian Christian whose parents had left the area and brought him to this country when he was twelve.

Another thing I wondered when I researched this post is why Sirhan was tried under the state criminal system in California. I knew the crime was committed there, but I thought surely this would have been a federal crime as well (one of its results, by the way, is that presidential candidates are now afforded Secret Service protection). It turns out that it was not a federal crime at the time, and another result of Sirhan’s act is that the killing of a presidential candidate is now a federal crime, due to a law Congress passed after RFK’s death in 1971. This sadly extended an earlier law passed by Congress in 1965, in reaction to the shooting of his brother JFK:

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, it was not a federal crime to kill a U.S. president. Had alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald been tried, the trial would have taken place in a Texas state court. In 1965, Congress passed a law, 18 U.S.C. 1751, making it a federal crime to kill, kidnap, or assault the President or the Vice President.

That’s one extension of the power of the federal government with which I have no quarrel.

And what do George Plimpton, Rosey Grier, and Pete Hamill have in common? They, among others, wrestled Sirhan to the ground after the assassination.

Another fact I had completely forgotten—if I ever even knew it in the first place—is that five other people were injured in the shooting, although they all lived. They were “Paul Schrade, an official with the United Automobile Workers union; William Weisel, an ABC TV unit manager; Ira Goldstein, a reporter with the Continental News Service; Elizabeth Evans, a friend of Pierre Salinger, one of Kennedy’s campaign aides; and a teenager, Irwin Stroll, a Kennedy volunteer.”

8 Responses to “About Sirhan Sirhan’s religion”

  1. Cornhead Says:

    SS, “My only connection with Robert Kennedy was his sole support of Israel and his deliberate attempt to send those 50 bombers to Israel to obviously do harm to the Palestinians.”

    And so the Middle East insanity infected his thinking. Muslim or not, Jew hatred drove him to it. Add in the Sunni v. Shia insanity and we know this problem will never be fixed.

    New theory. Obama let Iran get nukes as a payoff to US defense contractors. Trump inked $100b deal with KSA.

  2. neo-neocon Says:


    It’s understood that Sirhan was motivated by RFK’s stance on Israel re Palestine. That has never been in question.

    However, I was interested here in correcting the assumption—widely held, I think—that he was a Muslim.

  3. Gringo Says:

    Michel Aflaq, co-founder of the Baathist Party, the party which can claim Assad and Saddam Hussein as members, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s infamous spokesman, was also Christian.

    In the 1960s, I knew members of a Palestinian Christian family who emigrated from Bethlehem. After the 1960s, I have had limited contact with the family. Many had postgraduate STEM degrees. No slackers, they.

    There was a reason why they were in the US. The patriarch, who worked in Jordan’s civil service for the West Bank, told his children to get out of the West Bank. He did so before the Six Day War in 1967. From his experience as a civil servant, he informed his children, he concluded that Muslims would always favor promoting a Muslim over a Christian.

    A grandson of the patriarch got his BS in the Middle East and his graduate STEM degrees in the US. While he was able to work in his profession in the US, the amount of time he devoted to political activism against Israel caused him to lose his jobs in the US. He moved back to the West Bank. One irony about his anti-Israel activism is that a cousin of his on the other side of his family has given ample testimony about Muslim harassment/violence/robbery against Christians in the West Bank. Which mirrors what the patriarch said over 50 years ago- but which his grandson conveniently forgot while protesting Israel.

    (A further irony about the grandson protesting against Israel is that there is some scuttlebutt to the effect that one of his children living in the US has a significant other of the Jewish faith. Ah well, the world is messy.)

    BTW, one family member got kicked out of Kuwait after Saddam’s invasion got reversed. Palestinians working in Kuwait discovered there were consequences for PLO support of Saddam’s invasion.

    I witnessed the patriarch declaiming against Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Yes, I understand why he didn’t like being occupied. But the patriarch said no word about why the Israelis were in the West Bank: King Hussein attacked the Israelis during the Six Day War, in spite of the Israelis warning him not to do so.

    One would think that having known Palestinian Christians, that I would have more sympathy for the Palestinians. But with all the above nuances, the reply is no, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the Palestinians.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    IMO, the Trump appellation of “evil losers” is the single strongest verbal blow against Islamic fundamentalist theology since George W. Bush declared, “You’re either with us or against us…” Unfortunately, they proved to be empty words, he either didn’t mean it or capitulated to voices that urged ‘moderation’.

    He either forgot or more likely never learned that once an ultimatum is declared, it cannot be taken back without losing all credibility. Another “red line” moment.

  5. Sharon W Says:

    Thank you, Neo. I am one of those who erroneously believed that Sirhan Sirhan was a Muslim. It is widely reported as such and I never looked into it and missed that post in 2011.

  6. blert Says:


    Jordan was suckered into the war by three powers: Egypt, Syria, and Israel… each for its own reasons.

    The only power that had a true appreciation of the situation was Israel.

    Egypt wanted Syria and Jordan to bail them out. Nassar’s war had blown up. Folks tend to forget that Nassar started the war by BLOCKADING Israel’s southern port. This is casus belli — pure and simple. Arab apologists always omit this… you’ll have to drill down to find this in popular histories.

    Syria wanted Jordan to draw off Israel, too.

    Israel wanted, needed, a short decisive war.

    The West Bank (trans Jordan) was an existential threat to Tel Aviv — and the whole of the nation.

    So Israel wanted the king to initiate hostilities — for which Israel was totally prepared.

    Once the king realized how badly things had gone for Egypt, he refused to reinforce failure, and kept his army largely east of trans-Jordan. ( He wasn’t too wild about having non-Jordanian Arabs within his nation in the first place. )

    However, fighting within Jerusalem was intense. Eastern Jerusalem had been garrisoned by a ‘static’ formation. It had to be destroyed by small arms infantry tactics.

    There is no realistic way for Israel to surrender the West Bank for two reasons:

    It’s the original heartland of Judaism, not the lowlands to the north, west and south.

    It’s an existential threat to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the nation as a whole.

  7. ken Says:

    Once a Palestinian always a terrorist.

  8. AesopFan Says:

    Having opened the gate to the Tangential Path, let’s take a stroll down history lane.
    “When Jordan’s Arab Legion seized half of Jerusalem, ethnically cleansed its Jewish population and annexed the city– the only entity to recognize the annexation was the United Kingdom which had provided the officers and the training that made the conquest possible. Officers like Colonel Bill Newman, Major Geoffrey Lockett and Major Bob Slade, under Glubb Pasha, better known as General John Bagot Glubb, whose son later converted to Islam, invaded Jerusalem and used the Muslim forces under their command to make the partition and ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem possible.
    The Jews living in the free half of Jerusalem continued to be killed by Jordanian Muslim snipers. …
    Diplomacy says that the 1948 borders set by Arab countries invading Israel should be the final borders and that, when Israel reunified a sundered city in 1967, it was an act of aggression, while, when seven Arab armies invaded Israel in 1948, it was a legitimate way to set permanent boundaries. When Jordan ethnically cleansed East Jerusalem, it set a standard that Israelis are obligated to follow to this day by staying out of East Jerusalem. To violate that ethnic cleansing endangers peace. …
    In 1966, Jerusalem was a city sundered in two, divided by barbed wire and the bullets of Muslim snipers. Diplomacy did not reunite it. Israel pursued diplomacy nearly to its bitter end until it understood that it had no choice at all but to fight. Israel did not swoop into the fight, its leaders did their best to avoid the conflict, asking the international community to intervene and stop Egypt from going to war.
    “May 23, 2017: Fifty years ago today, state-run media in Cairo announced that Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, cutting off the Jewish state’s access to the Red Sea. Then-President Lyndon Johnson later said of the Six-Day War, which erupted two weeks later, “If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other, it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Straits of Tiran would be closed. The right of innocent, maritime passage must be preserved for all nations.”

    A half-century later, however, a “historiographical rewriting” of the Six-Day War has “effectively become the received dogma, echoed by some of the most widely used college textbooks about the Middle East,” as Gabriel Glickman explains in this advance-release article from the Summer 2017 issue of Middle East Quarterly. …
    It is a general law that every war is fought twice—first on the battlefield, then in the historiographical arena—and so it has been with the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war (or the Six-Day War as it is commonly known). No sooner had the dust settled on the battlefield than the Arabs and their Western partisans began rewriting the conflict’s narrative with aggressors turned into hapless victims and defenders turned into aggressors. Jerusalem’s weeks-long attempt to prevent the outbreak of hostilities in the face of a rapidly tightening Arab noose is completely ignored or dismissed as a disingenuous ploy; by contrast, the extensive Arab war preparations with the explicit aim of destroying the Jewish state is whitewashed as a demonstrative show of force to deter an imminent Israeli attack on Syria. It has even been suggested that Jerusalem lured the Arab states into war in order to expand its territory at their expense. So successful has this historiographical rewriting been that, fifty years after the war, these “alternative facts” have effectively become the received dogma, echoed by some of the most widely used college textbooks about the Middle East.[1]”
    “The Six-Day War was run by a committee. A highly classified committee, whose transcripts have never been seen for 50 years. Until now: here they are.

    Israel has no commander-in-chief. The military is subordinate to the cabinet, where each minister, prime minister included, has one vote. Often the cabinet sets up a smaller committee called the security cabinet (SC), to which it delegates supervising and commanding the military. Facing exceptional decisions, the prime minister may declare that the entire cabinet is the SC. This ensures secrecy, because leaking information from the SC has serious penalties. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol often reminded his colleagues that the very fact that they had met was itself a state secret.

    The security cabinet of 1967 appears in these never-published transcripts as a group of serious, professional, and responsible decision-makers. While the ministers brought their worldviews to the table, they often didn’t vote on party lines, often did listen to one another, and generally managed to make decisions, albeit slowly and through compromises. These characteristics were not helpful in the maelstrom of the Six-Day War, when the cabinet receded in the face of its two most enigmatic members: Levi Eshkol, who can be read either as a weak figure or a master manipulator; and Moshe Dayan, who comes across as an arrogant but talented prima donna.

    The SC met irregularly 36 times between January and July 1967. Three meetings took place in the final 24 hours of the war, then three meetings in two days about what to do with the new territories. There were five meetings in January, but only one in March. The ministers, being politicians, tended toward wordiness; the 935 pages of the transcripts reflect some 100 hours of talk.

    The very point of their committee was to manage Israel’s military challenges. Yet none of the ministers saw the approaching war until it was almost upon them; not a single one of them foresaw its outcome. Between January and mid-May 1967, the meetings focused on Syria. Between May 15 and June 4, the SC strove to comprehend the significance of unfolding events in Egypt. During the six days of June 5-10 it tried to remain in control of events, with only middling success. On June 11, 1967, having had exactly no time at all to prepare, they had to decide what Israel should do with its astonishing new borders. After the war, there were intense discussions about what it all meant, which will be covered in Part II of this essay. In spite of fundamental differences of perspective, ideology, and character, the ministers listened to each other and followed developments with minds open enough that outcomes of deliberations were not foretold.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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