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There’s a new outrage at the Obama administration in the social media universe, this time for actions that seem to place Muslim sensibilities above good old-fashioned American patriotism.
"U.S. Embassy Celebrates America’s Independence on June 4th in Order to Accommodate Muslims," reads one typical headline on the website Young Conservatives.
Other conservative sites published similar posts, including the Federalist Papers Project (which blamed a "misplaced sense of political correctness"), Gateway Pundit (which griped, "It’s an Obama world") and the American Thinker (which called the decision "mind-boggling").
Several readers spotted such claims in their social media feeds and asked us to check them out. The urban-legends site Snopes.com also checked into the claim.
Most of the social media posts cite a news story published on June 5, 2015, in the Jakarta Post, an English-language newspaper in Indonesia’s capital city.
"The United States Embassy enjoyed its annual 4th of July celebration on Thursday, June 4, one month early, in order to respect the upcoming Ramadhan month, which will begin on June 17 and last for one month," the story said. "U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake and U.S. Ambassador to (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Nina Hachigian presided over the festivities, which involved brass band renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Indonesian national anthem, Indonesia Raya."
The same day, the embassy put out a prepared text of the ambassador’s remarks from the event.
"Friends, my fellow Americans, welcome to America's Independence Day celebration!" he said. "We are celebrating a month early to respect the holy month of Ramadan, but today we remember the revolutionary Congress meeting on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia that issued America’s ‘Declaration of Independence’ that changed the course of modern history."
So, there’s a solid basis for the social-media claims that (1) the embassy moved the date of its celebration of July 4, and (2) that it did it in order to accommodate Ramadan.
Still, it’s worth noting some additional context that overheated social media posts overlooked or ignored.
Indonesia has more Muslim residents than any other country in the world -- an estimated 204 million in 2010, or 88 percent of the country’s total population. So the marking of Ramadan -- the month-long period of daylight fasting and self-reflection -- has a significant impact on daily life in Indonesia.
Because Ramadan is tied to the lunar calendar, it cycles around the calendar through all the seasons. This year, it happened to overlap with July 4, but in another year, it could overlap with Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Diplomatic experts told PolitiFact that the key reason such parties are held in the first place is not for the benefit of embassy staff or Americans, but rather to share America’s values with opinion leaders in the host country.
"An embassy’s Fourth of July celebration is an occasion to play host to a wide range of important figures in the local society, to cultivate their friendship and understanding, and to show off some of the attractive features of American culture -- openness, hospitality, generosity, and the enjoyment of simple pleasures," said Harry W. Kopp, a former foreign service officer who co-authored the book Career Diplomacy.
If people in Jakarta are preoccupied with a holy month -- and one where they cannot eat during daylight hours -- then it doesn’t make sense to schedule an outreach event for that period, he said.
During the daily State Department briefing on June 9, department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirmed that was the thinking.
The purpose of the event "is to represent the United States to the host nation and to the host government," Rathke said. "So of course, to do that most effectively, we want to hold these events when the guests are best able to attend and when we can most effectively achieve the purpose of the event.
Such reschedulings are "not unusual" and are done "for various reasons," said Nicholas Kralev, a former diplomatic correspondent and author. These include reschedulings for reasons having nothing to do with Ramadan.
"In 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Oman celebrated our 236th year of independence in February that year," according to the diplomatic blog Diplopundit. "We were once told that heat is the reason for these early 4th of July celebrations at various overseas posts. At one (European) post, we heard that it was the heat and the fact that most government officials leave the capital city in July. In 2013 and again in 2014, the US Embassy in Nepal celebrated July 4th three months earlier, in March ‘in the hopes of escaping monsoon weather.’ "
Various social media posts recently offered headlines like this one: "U.S. Embassy Celebrates America’s Independence on June 4th in Order to Accommodate Muslims"
The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta did reschedule its July 4 celebration for June 4, and it explained the move as a way "to respect" the holy month of Ramadan. The switch had to do with increasing the odds of a successful event by scheduling it when local people would not be distracted by a religious observance that requires daytime fasting. Also, it’s not unprecedented for embassies to re-schedule July 4th celebrations for a variety of reasons, including the weather.
The blog posts are accurate but require additional information, so we rate the statement Mostly True.
Young Conservatives, "U.S. Embassy Celebrates America’s Independence on June 4th in Order to Accommodate Muslims," June 7, 2015
Federalist Papers Project, "U.S. Embassy Removes July 4 Celebration Out of Respect for Islam," undated
Gateway Pundit, "US Embassy Moves Its "Go Green" Independence Day Celebration to June 4th Out of Respect for Ramadan," June 6, 2015
American Thinker, "US Embassy moves Fourth of July Celebration to June 4 'out of respect for Ramadan,' " June 7, 2015
U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, "Remarks by Ambassador Blake at the Celebration of the 239th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, Jakarta," June 4, 2015
Jakarta Post, "US Embassy celebrates 4th of July earlier out of respect for Ramadhan," June 5, 2015
State Department, transcript of daily briefing, June 9, 2015
Pew Research Center, "Table: Muslim Population by Country," Jan. 27, 2011
History.com, "Ramadan," accessed June 9, 2015
DiploPundit, "US Embassies Move Fourth of July For Heat, Monsoon Weather, and Now For Ramadan — Read Before Getting Mad," June 9, 2015
Snopes.com, "U.S. Embassy ‘Removes’ July 4 Celebration in Muslim Indonesia?" June 8, 2015
Email interview with Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project and the Program on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, June 8, 2015
Email interview with Harry W. Kopp, a former foreign service officer who co-authored the book Career Diplomacy, June 8, 2015
Email interview with Nicholas Kralev, a former diplomatic correspondent and author, June 8, 2015
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