Saturday, March 14, 2015
Obama on extremist Islam
One argument, usually from supporters, is that this is actually well-considered strategic policy. This account on the Beirut to Beltway blog is the most reasonable defense of this I've seen. But I don't buy it. If that's it, there are plenty of other things often labeled "Islamic" that he seems quite comfortable with, e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood. For another, it requires us to impose an interpretation on his words. But, as I'll argue, it makes more sense to simply take them at face value and assume he means what he says. He's consistent, after all.
So consider the critics. Some critics -- Sean Hannity, for example -- argue that Obama is incredibly naive. That's hard to believe. It's not as though the rest of us have access to better information than the president does, and even a superficial glance shows that Boko Haram, Al Shabab, ISIS, and the many incarnations of Al Qaeda all claim Islam as their inspiration and Sharia as their goal. Naivete seems a weak explanation at best -- it really seems to be "steadfast refusal" rather than confusion.
Another explanation is political correctness. Blogger "Lorenzo from Oz" has a particularly insightful analysis of this phenomenon. I think this goes a long way to explaining why leftist academics sympathize with Islamism, and probably explains a good part of the machinations of the Obama administration and foreign policy establishment. (That, plus "following orders" is darn near a complete explanation.) But "political correctness" and the philosophy behind it is another argument that ultimately amounts to a failure on the part of those who insist that Islam is blameless to really understand the nature of Islamism.
I don't think these explanations explain Barack Obama's position, and I'd like to offer a different one -- one that is based entirely on taking his own words at face value. Barack Obama has repeatedly called violent extremism and terrorism done in the name of Islam to be a perversion of Islam. In doing so, he is taking a theological position, and it is one that has been made by a number of people and groups that are Islamist -- that is, who believe political systems should be Islamized, made into compliance with the Koran and Sharia, but that terrorism is the wrong -- and even immoral -- route to this. I first encountered this position in 1989, in the discussion with my Pakistani friend I've occasionally mentioned. He made the point to me not that the ultimate goals of jihadi terrorists were wrong (the spread of Islam, including Sharia, throughout the world), but that their methods -- terror and violence -- were wrong. As I understand it, many others, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, make the same argument: terrorism is unIslamic. But political Islam and the imposition of Sharia is Islamic. This is a theological position, based on particular interpretations of of the Koran and Hadith. When Barack Obama argues that violent extremism is unIslamic, he makes exactly this point. I have never heard him suggest that Islamism is in any way a perversion of the Koran, nor, for that matter, in any way objectionable. To the contrary, his statements suggest he is supportive of Islamism, at least mildly.
Given all that we've seen in his presidency, his speech in Cairo in 2009 seems much less bizarre. Whether he's secretly a Muslim or not I neither know nor care (I suspect he has no serious religious beliefs at all and is a de facto atheist), but he knows Islam, I think well, from "three continents," and think of it with a great deal of sympathy and respect -- hence his references to the "holy Koran," "the prophet Mohammed," and "the revelation of Islam." Given his background, he surely must understand Islam better than most Americans (I cannot fathom how he could be naive on Islam) and his pointed refusal to say anything at all against political Islam is telling. I think he is sympathetic to Islamism. Hence:
- His refusal to speak in favor of the liberals who opposed the mullahs during Iran's failed "Green Revolution"
- His support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's "Arab Spring"
- His immediate condemnation of the removal of Morsi and crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by General al Sisi
- His otherwise incomprehensible lament that the First Amendment "tied his hands' so that he couldn't go after the maker of the film on Mohammed that allegedly stirred up the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi (an allegation that turns out to have been a lie concocted by Obama and his administration)
- His appointment of Harvard Law Dean Harold Koh as legal advisor to the State Department (Koh has written on how the First Amendment could be circumvented so that the government could prohibit things like blasphemy and bring America more in line with international "standards.")
- His apparent willingness to get any kind of nuclear deal with Iran, even a temporary one that leaves all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure intact (more on this shortly)
- His remarkable hostility to Benyamin Netanyahu, and to Israel in general
- His repeated negative and even hostile references to Christianity, from denigrating its "bitter clingers" to condemning it for slavery (as if slavery is unIslamic!) or the Crusades
- All sorts of other strange things start to make some sense if one supposes Obama is taking a theological position as to what is and is not Islamic, e.g. Obama's insistence that the murders of Jews in a Paris market were "random" or that the Fort Hood shootings were "workplace violence"