Two days after video of the brutal execution of a Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State circled the globe, President Obama reminded his mostly Christian audience at the National Prayer Breakfast about the Crusades and the Inquisition. The President framed this as an exercise in humility but it was really a cop out.
The President made this reference to some of the horrible attacks committed by Islamists recently:
We also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. 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. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
“How do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities,” the President pondered. “The profound good… that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious [sic] for their own murderous ends. Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he continued.
It was at this point that the President sought to humble his audience by reaching back nearly 1,000 years: “And lest we get up 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.”
Notice that the President didn’t refer to any of the multitude of acts of terror committed by Islamic extremists as “terrible deeds in the name of Muhammad”? Has he ever used such language? Maybe he has on some occasion, but those examples don’t come to mind (or turn up in a cursory Google search). Instead ISIS, that is the Islamic State, is referred to as “a brutal, vicious death cult” acting “in the name of religion.” Religion? Which religion, Mr. President?
This is a pattern, an intentional one, with this White House. But contrary to the President’s implication, one does not need to be up on a high horse to see the obvious pattern that has formed during his tenure in office. The President barely scratched the surface of horrors we have witnesses just in the last three years. Our news is increasingly made up of one outrageous act of barbarism committed in the name of Allah after another.
In 2012, members of the Taliban attempted to assassinate 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai for her advocacy of education for girls. Incredibly, Malala survived and eventually became the youngest ever Nobel laureate.
In 2013, it was the bombing of the Boston marathon which killed 3 people, including an 8-year-old boy and left others with permanent disabilities. The brothers who committed the bombing were inspired by Islamic extremism and likely got their bomb-making tips from al Qaeda’s glossy magazine.
But 2014 brought us fresh horrors. Last April we learned about 300 young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram to either be kept as sex slaves or sold to others as slaves. The entire world was horrified. The First Lady was so moved she made a point of joining in a campaign to “bring back our girls.’ But the story only got worse when some of those kidnapped girls, children as young as ten-years-old, were turned into suicide bombers and used to attack other villages.
The world was not able to focus on Boko Haram because another group of Islamic terrorists known as the Islamic State or ISIS began beheading people and releasing videos of their murders online. In August, ISIS murdered US journalist James Foley. In September, they released another video, this one showing the murder of US journalist Steven Sotloff. In November, ISIS released a video of the murder of Peter Kassig, another US citizen. ISIS murdered British and French citizens in the same manner. And in addition to the beheadings, reports indicated that ISIS, like Boko Haram, was kidnapping young girls for sex and using rape as a weapon of war.
But horrific as these acts were, the world was not able to focus on the Islamic State because another group of Islamic terrorists, this one in France, went on a murder spree to exact revenge for a satirical newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad. Eleven people working in an office were killed in the attack and another eleven were injured.
In between the major shocks there were smaller ones like the rampage in Ottawa, the beheading in Oklahoma, and the attack on NYPD officers with a hatchet, the latter carried out by self-radicalized Islamic extremist Zale H. Thompson.
Which brings us, as if by a trail of blood, to this week, when the Islamic State upped the ante by releasing a video of the gruesome killing of a Jordanian fighter pilot. Not content with beheading him, ISIS burned him alive in a cage and then dumped rubble on his body. CNN and others rushed to proclaim this latest brutality at odds with Islam but failed to mention that ISIS’s entire video was designed to claim the killing was in line with an ancient form of punishment allowed under Sharia law.
Incredibly, the burning-a-man-alive video may not have been the most shocking news this week. A UN report issued the day after the video revealed that ISIS is routinely “killing, torturing and raping children” in Iraq.
Against this backdrop of horror, our President feels the need to step back and take the long view. Instead of talking about Islam’s connection to the slavery of young girls right now, the President wants to lecture us on Christianity’s connection to slavery 150 years ago. Instead of condemning ISIS’ undeniable connection to Muhammad right now, he wants to re-focus our attention on the Crusaders and the Inquisition. Instead of condemning the Charlie Hebdo attackers Islamic extremism in a clear voice he wants to also condemn those who insult the faith of others (as if these two things were equally problematic).
This is not a much needed exercise in humility. This is a dodge, a cop out.
The ongoing threat to peace and human dignity from religion is not coming from Christianity, nor does it stem from Christian arrogance. The Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria, in Syria and Iraq, and in Egypt do not need a lecture on humility. The President ought to drop the moral equivalence and confront the threat we face in the here and now. And if he feels the need to lecture on religious humility, there is one religion that desperately needs to grasp the concept, right now in this century. In case it’s not already clear, that religion is not Christianity.