Foreign and Defense Policy

George Bush and Barack Obama, professors of Islam

White House Flickr Stream

White House Flickr Stream

It wasn’t the Cairo Embassy and its embarrassing apology to Muslims that began the conversation about America and respect for Islam. George W. Bush launched the modern era of president as preacher, using his, er, pulpit to sermonize that “Islam is a noble faith,” “Islam is Peace,” “Islam brings hope and comfort”… and more. Needless to say, Barack Obama has doubled down on his predecessor; his first public speech was in Cairo and contained this heartfelt call to all Muslims everywhere:

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

All told there were 23 references to Islam in that one speech alone, and 45 – FORTY-FIVE – references to Muslims. The president expounded on the faith, the Holy Quran, the people, the traditions, the sins of colonialism against Muslims, the sins of the Cold War against Muslims, the sins of extremist Muslims against Muslims, and… well, you get the theme. And he was only warming up. This week, Obama reassured Egyptian President Morsi that he “rejects efforts to denigrate Islam.” Why did he need to say so? Does he also reject efforts to denigrate Coptic Christians? What about Jews? Did he mention that? Has he given that speech? Repeatedly?

Want more absurd? The chairman of the joint chiefs was tasked with calling Terry Jones, the Florida-based bigot, to end his support for the anti-Muslim “film” that has been accused of inciting violence against U.S. embassies and consulates in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. One creep. The chairman of the joint chiefs. Think about it. There are, I hesitate to mention, a lot of creeps in America. Who denigrate Islam. And do other stuff. Should the CJCS call them all?

For the record, I have no quibble with Islam or Muslims or with most of the assertions made by Bush, Obama, and every other politico who has felt moved to expound on the virtues of one particular faith. But today at an AEI event I was struck by the comments of Hisham Milhem, the bureau chief of al Arabiya here in DC, who questioned why any president of the United States felt the need to be an authority on Islam, Muslims, or any other religion, or the need to continually defend the inclusiveness of America to Muslims as if somehow anyone reputable was accusing us of being inhospitable. (I don’t have video yet, but I’ll link it up as soon as we get it.) He asks a good question. Why does the president of the United States need to talk about Muslims as good people or bad people? Did Clinton talk about the Serbs as Orthodox and defend their religion in the 90s? Did our presidents defend the Russian Orthodox even as we faced down the Soviets during the Cold War? Does Obama talk about how awesome the Jews are every time he demands they do more for the Palestinians? Did Roosevelt talk about how much we love Lutherans and reject the notion that Hitler represented them? Catholics and Mussolini? Shinto and Tojo?

Where has this come from? We elect the president of the United States to represent the best of all of us, and to respect every American regardless of religion. The God in our Declaration of Independence doesn’t appear to have a denomination, and our Bill of Rights doesn’t mention any specific creed. Why does the president feel so compelled? Those who most often suggest we are at war with Muslims are … terrorists, their backers, and their apologists. They are the ones who wish to perpetuate the narrative of America, hater of Muslims. They are the ones who believe a film is a good enough excuse to kill Americans. This is their language.

America is a free, democratic nation that makes no distinction on the basis of religion. It’s time for the president of the United States to stop preaching and start defending our values.

Update: Video of today’s “After Benghazi and Cairo: The new face of the Middle East” event here. 

2 thoughts on “George Bush and Barack Obama, professors of Islam

  1. Ms. Pletka’s fundamental failure of understanding is encapsulated in this quote:

    “… as if somehow anyone reputable was accusing us of being inhospitable. [...] He asks a good question. Why does the president of the United States need to talk about Muslims as good people or bad people? Did Clinton talk about the Serbs as Orthodox and defend their religion in the 90s?”

    Let’s start with these two words from the first sentence: “anyone reputable”. The problem is, “reputable” is not a universal absolute despite Ms. Pletka’s apparent belief to the contrary. Barack Obama is reputable to Democrats, not so much to he Tea Party crowd. Sarah Palin is reputable to the right, but a sad joke to anyone on the left.

    Of course nobody reputable _to us_ is accusing us of being inhospitable to Muslims! But as unimaginable as this notion may be to Ms. Pletka, people we find disreputable may be very reputable to the Arab street. It just so happens that some of those people have been accusing us of engaging in a war on Islam. Ms. Pletka can read about some of them here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_against_Islam

    The objective truth of their claim is entirely irrelevant to the beliefs and reactions of the Arab street. As long as the Arab street holds that belief, it will be as hostile to us as they believe we are to them.

    The remarks were intended to address and modify that belief. Perhaps it won’t work the frst time, or the second time, or the third. Indeed, there is a very good chance it will never work. However remaining silent in the face of the accusations seems even less likely to cause them to change their beliefs. Even if we only get through to 5% of the people who believe in the lie, that reduction is still a benefit to us.

    The reason Clinton did not say anything about the Serbian Orthodox religion is simply that nobody, not even the most rabid Serb nationalists, accused the United States of being motivated by a hostility to that denomination. There was no misperception to counter.

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