President Obama wants a public debate on the danger of a religious war against all of Islam because of the hideous criminal actions of some under the banner of Islam. Like anything done in the US in the name of God, it is fraught with the dangers of partisan politics.
The behaviour of American politicians leaves no room for doubt over the necessity to talk ‘god’ in the electoral process.
Genuinely or otherwise, God must be invoked as often as possible.
‘He’, because gals that’s religious chauvinism for ya, is as important to a successful campaign as unquestioning support for guns and Israel.
Playing the God game in the USA has however, one very important rule. The ‘god’ is a Christian one. No real competition allowed.
Those who lack demonstrative zeal for this god, or, heaven forbid, admit to no god at all may as well kiss goodbye any vision of electoral triumph.
Not really a Christian ethos when you think about it, but that’s just how they like it. Don’t get all uppity and intellectual.
Cue President Obama speaking to the nation’s National Prayer breakfast.
He audaciously talked religion at this religious gathering.
His sin - evoke the ‘crusades’ and ‘inquisition(s)’ when making the point that no religion has a mortgage on savagery.
Currently a disgusted world is grappling with the barbarity of a group of criminal thugs who claim to be using the religion of Islam to justify the slaughter of thousands in Iraq and Syria, and the execution of other nationals it captures.
More often than not these perpetrators are conveniently described as Islamic terrorists - with all the pejorative connotations of labeling any individual or group as ‘terrorist’ and slagging of an entire religion while you are at it.
Just days after a captured Jordanian pilot was burned to death by members of this group, Obama stated what was essentially the obvious - that there are dangers when any religion is co-opted by extremism.
Some moderates within the three monotheistic faiths have in the past couple of days described Obama’s message as nuanced and sophisticated, delivered to a nuanced sophisticated group of religious leaders.
The President was wading into a conversation that needs to be had.
The essential point is that the world is not at war with Islam. The world is at war with a tiny group of individuals who are twisting into a weapon the teachings of the largest religion in the world.
Islam, just like any religion including Christianity, does not have a monopoly on being hijacked by fundamentalists.
“...and lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ...”
Well all hell broke loose at that....and unsurprisingly it continues, but unfortunately mainly in the negative.
Commentators, politicians and historians have piled in on the President, admonishing him for trying to compare atrocities committed by some Christians centuries ago with the atrocities committed by some Muslims today.
Apparently, according the a former governor of Virginia Obama made not only the most offensive comments this Mr Jim Gilmore had heard from a president in his entire lifetime, (surely not) but that he had offended every believing Christian in the US, and showed clearly that he does not believe in or share American values.
(Don’t forget many Republicans have rather loudly opined that Barack Hussein Obama is a secret Muslim).
Aspiring Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal blithely summarised the issue as “let’s be honest, Islam has a problem”.
What the President was pointing out during a speech in exactly the right venue, was let’s be honest, we all have a problem and can not blame all Muslims for the violence of a few.
Obama could not not have been any clearer when he said
“...from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith - their faith - professed to stand up for Islam but in fact are betraying it”.
Obama was accused of trying to deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.
If you really want to be frightened by this issue, take a little trawl through the comments sections of any major stories on it.
It is ugly and it is depressing.
Obama may not be a theologian or a historian but he has the guts to tell Americans that they need to face the reality that the actions of fundamentalists and literalists in any religion are harmful.
Islam, a religion of 1.6 billion people, can not be reduced to “vicious death cult” because of the actions of a tiny percentage.
Currently, according to the pollsters at Pew, more than half of Americans already believe Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions.
Obama has once before come close to the cauldron when he brushed off conservative Americans as “clinging to their bibles and their guns”. He survived the election nevertheless.
Now with so much US domestic and foreign policy being influenced by the Muslim Middle East, any legitimate American President needs to lead the debate on the place of Islam and that includes untangling its masses from the kidnaps, rapes and murders by some under its banner.
After all if Christians can unhitch their wagon from the Crusades and the Inquisitions, why can’t Islam?
Time and effort needs to go into an actual understanding of what Obama’s critics mean by their hyperbolic “terrorism of Radical Islam”, rather than bandying it about for naked political advantage.
When conservatives and neo-cons in the US and around the world play such politics, they succeed in exaggerating the power of a bunch of criminal thugs while clamping down on the rights and freedoms of the rest of us.
Scaring people may work in election races, but it would be foolish to believe Bush’s ridiculously termed “War on Terror” has made the world a better place.
For many it was, justifiably or not, seen as nothing more than a Christian Crusade.