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This just in: Islam is a religion of peace. So said Barack Obama yet again on Sunday in India. Even though he was repeating conventional boilerplate that he has repeated many times in the past, and that the Bush Administration repeated before him, his statements in Mumbai signaled his determination to keep the United States firmly committed to the policy errors that flow from this mistaken assumption.
Obama was visiting St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, just a short walk away from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, one of the sites of the November 26, 2008 jihad attacks in which Islamic supremacists murdered 173 people and wounded another 308. Given the setting, it was not surprising that a student at St. Xavier’s asked Obama this question: “What is your take or opinion about jihad? Or jihadi, whatever is your opinion, what do you think of them?”
Obama initially seemed taken aback, fumbling for an answer: “Well…” Pause. “You know, uh…” Pause. Then he fell back on some clichés from back in Great World Religions class: “The phrase Jihad has lot of meanings within Islam, and is subject to a lot of different interpretations. But I will say that first, Islam is one of the world’s great religions.” Having begun mining the boilerplate, he finally hit something resembling a stride: “And, uh, more than a billion people who practice Islam, the overwhelming majority, uh, view their obligations to their religion as ones that reaffirm peace and justice, and fairness and tolerance. I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence against innocent people that is never justified.”
There was no surprise in any of that. Obama invokes the great unicorn in which we all must believe (on pain of charges of “bigotry” and “Islamophobia”) but which no one has ever actually seen: a moderate, mainstream and traditional form of Islam that does not teach warfare against and the subjugation of unbelievers. The peacefulness of individual Muslims does not establish the existence of this peaceful form of Islam, although many believe that it does, because when these peaceful Muslims are challenged on Islamic grounds by jihadists and Islamic supremacists, they are vulnerable: jihadists get recruits and justify their actions among Muslims by appealing to Islamic teachings and presenting themselves as the authentic Muslims. Peaceful Muslims must challenge that if — if — they really wish to lessen the influence jihadists have within Islamic communities.
But one thing is certain: none of that is going to happen. Obama’s commitment to the idea that Islam is a religion of peace that has been distorted by a few extremists is rock-solid and unshakeable, and so it is important to note some of the policy errors that flow from it and will continue to do so:
1. The pressuring of Israel. The Palestinian conflict against Israel is, at its foundation, an Islamic jihad; if it weren’t, it would have ended long ago. There have been innumerable attempts at a negotiated settlement, and each one has failed because of Palestinian intransigence, which is founded in the idea that land ruled at any time by Muslims belongs by right to Muslims forever, and non-Muslims (particularly Jews, the worst enemies of the Muslims according to Qur’an 5:82) have no right to establish a state on such land.
This is why no Palestinian faction has ever recognized Israel, despite numerous promises to do so, and why Obama’s attempt to hammer out yet another negotiated settlement is doomed to fail, like all of its predecessors, to bring about anything resembling a lasting peace. Obama is assuming, because Islam is a peaceful religion that has been distorted by “a few extremists,” that the vast majority of Palestinians want “peace and justice, and fairness and tolerance” for themselves and for the Israelis. This misapprehension ensures that his peace initiatives are foredoomed.
2. The coddling of Iran. Obama’s hand outstretched to Iran has become the object of international ridicule, including from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself, but the American president appears undaunted. He continued to reach out to the Islamic regime in Tehran even as it was massacring its own people in the streets in the summer of 2009 – and missed an opportunity at that time to voice support for the Iranians who were standing up to that regime and risking their lives in hope of a better life. Underlying his relative indifference to the Islamic Republic’s human rights abuses may be his assumption that Islam is a peaceful religion that has been distorted by “a few extremists”; if that is so, how bad can an Islamic Republic be?
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