Last week, I riffed a little on the disingenuous ways in which U.S. presidents advance the idea that, despite reams of evidence to the contrary, religion is necessarily a force for good. This compulsion is especially great when it comes to Islam, the so-called religion of peace.
George W. Bush tried to make us believe that Islam is fundamentally kind, and Barack Obama has repeated the falsehood a hundred times. To hear the current president tell it, literally no religion desires anything but a world full of love and puppy dogs and pretty rainbows. At all cost, apparently, we must pretend that there is no elephant in the room. At the very least we should refrain from mentioning its presence.
Last night, in Obama’s ISIL speech on the eve of 9/11 (wasn’t the Twin Towers madness just about the best proof that religion is often anything but benign?), the president again went out of his way to deny the completely obvious link between Islam and violence.
He told two enormous lies in quick succession: that
ISIL is not Islamic
… and that
No religion condones the killing of innocents.
I appreciate the predicament of those who hold the country’s highest office. For strategic reasons, they tell themselves they must sing the Islam-is-A-OK refrain. They do it, somewhat understandably, so as not to further alienate moderate Muslims at home and abroad, and also because we really aren’t fighting a war against all Muslims — only against the dozens if not hundreds of millions of Muslim fundamentalist militants and their supporters.
Distinguishing between diplomacy and lying can be tough; and since, unlike the President, I’m not bound by the obligation to dispense the soft-pedaling claptrap that mainstream Muslims seem to want to hear, I can be blunt.
The fantasy that Obama advances time and again is that there is a clear line between what members of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram believe is “true” Islam, and what the rest of the world’s Muslims believe their religion is all about. But as Sam Harris wrote last year,
In fact, [such] groups have as good a claim as any to being impeccable Muslims.
Harris, thank goodness, has plenty of timely things to say about last night’s presidential speech — and about Obama’s absurd recasting of Islam as an overall force for good.
I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away — either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas — jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy — reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly — but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no”…
Martyrdom, hating infidels, and a penchant for violent jihad aren’t fringe, borderline tendencies in the Muslim world, Harris points out:
These preoccupations are supported by the Koran and numerous hadith. That is why the popular Saudi cleric Mohammad Al-Areefi sounds like the ISIS army chaplain. The man has 9.5 million followers on Twitter (twice as many as Pope Francis has). If you can find an important distinction between the faith he preaches and that which motivates the savagery of ISIS, you should probably consult a neurologist.
A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Koran. The reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity.
Harris bemoans the fact that
In any conversation on this topic, one must continually deploy a firewall of caveats and concessions to irrelevancy: Of course, U.S. foreign policy has problems. Yes, we really must get off oil. No, I did not support the war in Iraq. Sure, I’ve read Chomsky. No doubt, the Bible contains equally terrible passages. Yes, I heard about that abortion clinic bombing in 1984… Now can we honestly talk about the link between belief and behavior?
He’s right; we really should.
In the end, Harris brings back his argument to our Kumbaya-humming man in the White House:
[I]n response to the starkest conceivable expression of religious fanaticism, President Obama has responded with euphemisms — and missiles. This may be the best we can hope for, given the state of our discourse about religion. Perhaps one day we will do “everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.” But today, we won’t even honestly describe the motivations of our enemies. And in the act of lying to ourselves, we continue to pay lip service to the very delusions that empower them.
We do so at our peril.