Obama’s speech was deep in fable, short on fact.
By Andrew C. McCarthy
The Islamic world has heard the much anticipated speech about the relationship between Islam and America from “Barack Hussein Obama” — emphasis added by the president himself, who until recently considered the use of his middle name a right-wing smear. The oration was called “A New Beginning.” “A Pretend Beginning” would have been a more accurate.
Though President Obama has won plaudits from some surprising quarters — including from National Review — the speech was warmed-over leftist dogma sprinkled with a fictional accounting of Islam and its history. NR’s editors forgive this as the “obvious consideration” that a presidential address must “stress some truths more than others and soften the harsher ones.” This is a promiscuous conception of truth. What the president did was promote various fictions about Islam while airbrushing truths that are not merely harsh but are the facts behind the rampage that has victimized us for much of the last three decades. That rampage, moreover, was substantially discounted in a haze of moral equivalence.
It would be bad enough to do this under any circumstances, but it is inexcusable to do it while paying only lip-service to one of the few truths the president did speak: namely, that any “partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.”
“What it isn’t” is a religion of peace with a legacy so overflowing with achievement in science, philosophy, and the arts that civilization, as President Obama claimed, owes a great “debt to Islam.” In fact, the ledger runs heavily in the other direction.
Islam was spread by the sword — not by the allure of its still problematic message — and many of the cultural achievements within the Muslim world that the president glossed occurred despite Islam (particularly in the areas of literature, art, and music) or are more properly understood as the accomplishments (especially in science and architecture) of better-educated peoples whom Muslims conquered. The president rehearsed the claim that Islam single-handedly “carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” This is a myth. As Robert Spencer has ably recounted, it is not true that Muslims alone preserved the works of Aristotle, Galen, Plato, Hippocrates, and other pillars of Western enlightenment. More significantly, arrested development in the Islamic world owes to an anti-intellectualism that persists to this day in enclaves holding that no education beyond the study of the Koran is necessary.
The president, moreover, insisted on pulling from the Muslim apologists’ playbook the expurgation of Islamic scripture in order to render it congenial to Western sensibilities. We were treated to the hidebound claim that terrorist violence is anti-Islamic because what Obama takes pains to call “the Holy Koran” teaches that “whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.” This conveniently decoupled Sura 5:32 from the next verse (5:33), which, though unmentioned by Obama, is well known by Muslims to read: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land, is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter.”
Noting a bowdlerization even this egregious does not do justice to how misleading the president’s tactic was. Though Obama portrayed Islam as having a “proud tradition of tolerance,” it has a far more consequential legacy of intolerance. Islam strives for hegemony, seeking not to co-exist but to make all the world the realm of the Muslims (dar al-Islam) while regarding those parts not under its dominion as the realm of war (dar al-Harb). What Obama means by “an innocent” and what many Muslims take the term to mean are different.
Sura 5:33 is far from aberrant, and the “Holy Koran,” quite apart from its several other commands to violence, dehumanizes Jews in several places as the children of monkeys and pigs. It admonishes that Muslims “take not the Jews and the Christians as friends and protectors” (5:51). The hadiths of the prophet are replete with tales of non-Muslims slaughtered, forced into slavery, and reduced to humiliating dhimmitude. Mohammed’s vision of the end of the world foresaw Jesus returning to abolish Christianity and impose Islam, while Jews are killed by Muslims (with the help of trees and stones, which alert the faithful, “Muslim, there is a Jew behind me — come and kill him!” In fact, even President Obama’s cordial greeting of “assalaamu alaykum” to his Egyptian audience conveys (no doubt unintentionally) something of basic Islamic intolerance. Under sharia (Islamic law), as Spencer explains, “a Muslim may only extend this greeting — Peace be upon you — to a fellow Muslim. To a non-Muslim he is to say, ‘Peace be upon those who are rightly guided,’ i.e., Peace be upon the Muslims.”
To be sure, no sensible person would suggest that a U.S. president rehash these and other unpleasant facts in order to provoke Muslims gratuitously. But it was Obama’s idea to give this speech — it’s not as if he were put, through no fault of his own, to the awkward choice of telling a few little white lies or insulting his hosts. More to the point, the president takes the risible position (as did his predecessor) that “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.” Islam, however, is palpably a huge part of the problem in combating violent extremism, which is serially committed by Muslims under the influence of notable religious scholars (including more than a few educated at al-Azhar University, the “beacon of Islamic learning” that co-hosted the president’s speech) who invoke some of the many scriptures the president elected not to mention.
It is true enough that Islam must be part of the solution to the promotion of peace, but for two reasons alone. First, while it is possible to ignore Islamic doctrine’s nexus to terrorism, the nexus cannot credibly be denied, and therefore the need to deal with it is unavoidable. Second, and related, there can be no peace unless Islam reforms — unless it purges its savage elements and compellingly condemns the violence committed in its name. This can’t be done as Obama and others would like to do it: by telling Muslims everything is fine, that their religion is wonderful as is, while making believe the bad scriptures don’t exist and radicals are merely a tiny fringe of crazy people. That is a strategy designed by liberals to convince other liberals who don’t need convincing, so desperate are they to believe all is well. It does nothing to discredit the violent fundamentalists in the eyes of other Muslims; in fact, it enhances their credibility because it ignores their doctrinal justifications of terror rather than offering a credible counter-construction.
Worse, assuming there is no credible counter-construction (which may very well be the case), there is an enormous amount of reform to be done — work that can only be done by Muslims. We cannot rouse them to the task by telling them we think Islam, as it currently exists, is promoting peace.
All this would require a commitment to come to grips with “what Islam is, not what it isn’t.” It’s too bad we don’t have that commitment.
The government cannot give you anything without first taking it from someone else.