Friday, February 6, 2015

Thoughts on Obama's Prayer Breakfast Speech

On February 5, U.S. President Barack Obama made an address at the National Prayer Breakfast. And as can be expected whenever he takes a position on a controversial topic, some people got upset. In particular, people objected to his invocation of the Crusades, slavery, and Jim Crow as something people defended in the name of Christ. In the context, he was warning Americans to not think violent religious extremism was something other people (i.e. Muslims) did. To quote Scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns anyone thinks he stands to take heed lest he fall.

First things first, none of what Obama said was false. The Crusades were ordered by the Pope, the head of the Western Church, whose subordinates literally shouted "Deus vult" (God wills it). And although the Inquisition's body count has long been exaggerated by its Protestant and secularist critics, a few thousand across centuries murdered in the name of Christ (and countless others subject to lesser penalties like torture, public humiliation, internal exile, etc) is still a few thousand too many. And closer to home, many Christians in the U.S. defended slavery as Biblical and later separation of the races likewise. Christians today--and even many Christians back then (Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World includes accounts of Christian opponents of witch-hunting, some of whom were violently punished)--recognized these things as wrong, but that doesn't mean evil was not done in the name of Christ. Hell, even today many churches invoke 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 to try to silence (Christian) critics and cover up wrongdoing (actual crimes, not just the petty crap the verse is referring to).

However, self-flagellating over the Crusades in particular lacks historical perspective. The Crusades began when the Eastern Roman Empire, crumbling in the face of aggression by Muslim Turkic peoples (both the Great Seljuk Sultanate and independent ghazi warlords), requested military assistance from the Catholic world. This was only the latest of many defeats inflicted on Christians (and others) by Islamic warriors since the days of Mohammed himself. This article here provides an overview, but here's a map I found on Facebook this morning that illustrates the situation particularly vividly.

Furthermore, as this article from The Federalist points out, it is theologically much easier to justify violence in the name of Islam than Christianity. Jesus was a teacher executed by His government and a cynic (or a Nietzsche groupie) could write off the violence associated with the teaching of the Second Coming (see this quote from Luke and, well, most of the Book of Revelation) as a revenge fantasy of His followers. Meanwhile, Mohammed himself was a conqueror (even though, to be blunt, the Meccans persecuted him and his followers first) and his followers waged the wars depicted in the above image and Wikipedia article very soon after his death. The Federalist's article isn't perfect--when Tracinski comments about Islam not being able to uplift feudal and caste-ridden societies after 1,000 years he forgets the Golden Age of Islam and how the modern-day failings of many Islamic states can be attributed to later political problems like the resource curse, colonialism and other foreign meddling, etc. before they can be attributed to Islamic doctrine--but having a warrior vs. an ascetic as a spiritual leader has its consequences.

Obviously "they started it" or quibbling over theology does not justify the particularly gratuitous acts of violence that accompanied the Crusaders. The Jews were not to my knowledge involved in the Islamic wars of conquest at all and yet vast numbers of them suffered, both in pogroms along the line of march or the burning of the synagogue in Jerusalem, possibly with the worshipers inside. It was the Crusades, according to a history book I read in high school (it wasn't the official textbook but perhaps something I read as part of Academic Bowl) that kicked off the first pogroms that occurred intermittently all the way to the late 1940s. Furthermore, even if Islamic powers were the military enemy, there was no justification for gratuitous massacre of unarmed Muslims as occurred when the Crusaders took Jerusalem. Given St. Augustine had devised the doctrine of the Just War centuries earlier, the Crusaders (at least the clergy and more educated nobles, who would be in charge) should have known better.

However, just as the advances of the Caliphate or various Muslim rulers like the Seljuk sultan (who as a person seemed like a pretty cool fellow, based on the research I did for an article on the Battle of Manzikert) did not justify Crusader war crimes, the terrorist attacks of al-Qaeda and the conquering advance of ISIS do not justify the maltreatment of innocent Muslims today. For example, Daniel Pipes and Michelle Malkin have advocated measures going far beyond differentiating between Muslim men and little old ladies from Peoria when conducting airport security in regards to American Muslims. This article here, written by a Muslim, cites various indignities endured by American Muslims after 9/11. And you should see the comments that resulted when I defended the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and brought up the opposition to a Catholic church in New York centuries ago.

Yes, there are jihadis hiding among Muslim civilian populations in the U.S. and elsewhere, but there were Klansmen and other white-supremacist terrorists hiding among the white civilian populations of the defeated South after the Civil War. The federal response to their shenanigans--more widespread in geography, numbers of attacks, and political effectiveness even if smaller in body counts than modern Islamists--was generally more measured than the policies certain people have advocated toward Muslims. And Muslim allies will be needed to defeat ISIS--and after the murder of that Jordanian pilot there will be no shortage of them. Mistreating Muslims will jeopardize that.

So although Obama seems to have the typical blind spot Western left-wingers have when discussing the Crusades versus the wars that provoked them, the reaction to his comments has been ridiculous. We as conservatives need to do better.

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