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Profile: Sohale Siddiqi

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Sohale Siddiqi was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial questioning Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s record at Columbia University in New York City. Obama began his attendance at that university in 1981 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1983. The Journal does not directly assault Obama’s record of attendance, nor does it challenge the diploma he earned there, but instead accuses Obama of “barely mention[ing] his experience” at Columbia in his two published memoirs, accuses the Obama campaign of “refus[ing] to answer questions about Columbia and New York—which, in this media age, serves only to raise more of them,” and asks: “Why not release his Columbia transcript? Why has his senior essay gone missing?” (There is no senior thesis—see October 21, 2009). After noting that the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) has refused to release McCain’s records from the US Naval Academy, the Journal calls Obama “a case apart” because of his lack of “a long track record in government.” It accuses Obama, in his memoirs, of “play[ing] up certain chapters in his life—perhaps even exaggerating his drug use in adolescence to drive home his theme of youthful alienation—and ignor[ing] others.” Citizens and journalists attempting to “exercise… due diligence” in the days before the presidential election are, the Journal claims, “meeting resistance from Mr. Obama in checking his past.” The Journal claims that one of Obama’s Columbia-era roommates, Sohale Siddiqi, has confirmed Obama’s transformation in New York from a dissolute youth to a serious young man, telling an Associated Press reporter: “We were both very lost. We were both alienated, although he might not put it that way. He arrived disheveled and without a place to stay.” The Journal writes, “For some reason the Obama camp wanted this to stay out of public view,” and claims, “Such caginess is grist for speculation.” It speculates that Obama’s Columbia transcript might “reveal Mr. Obama as a mediocre student who benefited from racial preference,” though, noting that Obama later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, says he obviously “knows how to get good grades.” The Journal echoes “others” who “speculate about ties to the Black Students Organization, though students active then don’t seem to remember him,” along with tales from “the far reaches of the Web [about] conspiracies about former Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became the candidate’s ‘guru and controller’ while at Columbia in the early 1980s.” The Journal notes that Brzezinski “laughs, and tells us he doesn’t ‘remember meeting him.’” The Journal concludes that few remember Obama during his two years in New York. “Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him,” it reports. Obama himself has told biographer David Mendell that during his time at Columbia, “I was just painfully alone and really not focused on anything, except maybe thinking a lot.” The Journal concludes: “Put that way, his time at Columbia sounds unremarkable. Maybe that’s what most pains a young memoirist and an ambitious politician who strains to make his life anything but unremarkable.” (Wall Street Journal 9/11/2008)

Donald Trump, addressing an audience at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference.Donald Trump, addressing an audience at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. [Source: Red Dog Report (.com)]Billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump tells an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Obama “came out of nowhere,” and adds: “In fact, I’ll go a step further: the people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.” Trump, who receives cheers for the statement, tells the assemblage that he is considering running for president in 2012 as a Republican. He is apparently trying to revive the so-called “birther” claims that Obama is not a valid American citizen (see (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, and Around June 28, 2010). In response, PolitiFact, a non-partisan political research organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, retraces Obama’s academic career: Obama attended kindergarten in Honululu, and moved with his family to Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1967, where he attended a Catholic elementary school, St. Francis Assisi Catholic, as well as Besuki Public School, until age 11. He then returned to Honolulu, where he lived with his maternal grandparents and attended a private college preparatory school, Punahou School, until he graduated with a high school diploma. In 1979, he attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, transferred to Columbia University in 1981, and graduated from that university in 1983. He later attended, and graduated from, Harvard Law School in 1991. Trump’s claims apparently center on rumors that “no one knew him” at Columbia University, fueled in part by a 2008 editorial by the Wall Street Journal (see September 11, 2008), which repeated the “finding” of a Fox News “investigation” that found 400 classmates of Obama’s had not known him at the time. Another source is Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root, who attended Columbia at the same time as Obama and says: “I think the most dangerous thing you should know about Barack Obama is that I don’t know a single person at Columbia that knows him, and they all know me. I don’t have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia” (see September 5, 2008). Obama has himself said he did little socializing at Columbia, and though he had some involvement with the Black Students Organization and participated in anti-apartheid activities, spent most of his time studying: “Mostly, my years at Columbia were an intense period of study,” he has said. “When I transferred, I decided to buckle down and get serious. I spent a lot of time in the library. I didn’t socialize that much. I was like a monk.” The Journal noted a May 2008 story from the Associated Press containing an interview with Obama’s former roommate, Sohale Siddiqi, who verified Obama’s claims, and in January 2009, the New York Times published an interview with another roommate from the time, Phil Boerner, who also validated Obama’s claims of being a bookish, rather solitary student. PolitiFact interviews Cathie Currie, a professor at Adelphi University, who remembers Obama occasionally playing pick-up soccer with her and a group of friends on the lawn outside the library. She says he made an impression because of his athleticism, his maturity, and his wisdom, and she assumed that he was several years older than he actually was. “My sense of it was that he was keeping a low profile,” Currie tells the PolitiFact interviewer. “We’d ask him to go out with us for beers after soccer. He seemed like he wanted to, but then he’d step back and say, ‘Sorry, I’m going to the library.’” PolitiFact lists an array of articles covering Obama’s time at Occidental and Harvard Law School, noting that “[d]ozens of former classmates and teachers from those schools have publicly shared their recollections (and photos) of Obama. Obama was the president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal, for goodness sake.” PolitiFact has also found “plenty” of people who remember Obama from elementary and high school, in Indonesia and Hawaii. PolitiFact concludes: “We could get deeper into this but it seems like overkill. It’s abundantly clear that there are lots and lots of former classmates who remember Obama at every level of school. It’s true that Obama’s two years at Columbia are relatively undocumented. And far fewer classmates have publicly shared recollections of Obama from that period, as opposed to other school years before and after. At Columbia, Obama was a transfer student, he lived off campus, and by his and other accounts he buried himself in his studies and didn’t socialize much. But even so, there are several students who recall Obama at Columbia. In short, media accounts and biographies are filled with on-the-record, named classmates who remember Obama. Trump is certainly right that presidential candidates are heavily scrutinized. As even a basic online search confirms, Obama’s school years were, too. Trump’s claim that people who went to school with Obama ‘never saw him, they don’t know who he is’ is ridiculous. Or, to borrow Trump’s phrase, it’s crazy.” (St. Petersburg Times 2/10/2011; JamesJoe 2/17/2011)


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