(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/09/obama4.jpg)In President Obama’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, he sent a message to the Islamic world: We, like you, fear the critics of Islam. Though he stood against the Islamic blasphemy laws that punish real and imagined insulters of Islam, he reinforced the Islamist narrative that a war on Islam is underway.
“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims,” President Obama said.
He also took a few digs at the inconsistency in the Islamic world’s rage. He noted that the U.S. hasn’t instituted blasphemy laws against anti-Christian speech and that “the future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt.”
These paragraphs sound like a condemnation of all religious intolerance, but the first sentence emphasizes that it is only Islamic forces that should win the future. Anti-Christian sentiments, anti-Semitism and hostility towards Muslim minorities exist, but it is the anti-Islamic forces that we must be most concerned about. President Obama stood against Islamic blasphemy laws but justified the rationale used by Islamists around the world in implementing them. And this contradicted his statements on behalf of free speech.
The Islamist narrative that “Islamophobes” are waging war on Islam and systematically persecuting Muslims was also reinforced by Obama’s statement that the enemies of Islam could not win the future. The Islamist theme that Muslims are under assault is a critical factor in the radicalization process that creates potential terrorists. This sentiment is actively promoted by groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations here in the U.S.
This perception is not driven by an honest misreading of Western intentions. The root is Islamist doctrine, which Obama did not point out. Islamists will inevitably believe that Western governments and societies are anti-Muslim because there is no true “justice” or “peace” until the world is brought under Sharia Law.
The riots across the Muslim world over the “Innocence of Muslims” video are likewise attributable to Islamism. It’s not as simple as a violent overreaction to being offended. Islamism preaches that criticism of Islam is the highest offense and offenders are to be punished, either through violence or prosecution.
This is a belief held by many so-called “moderates” embraced by the West. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi said at the Clinton Global Initiative that “physical violence is not the only form of violence” in justifying blasphemy laws. The Tunisian “moderate Islamist” Rachid Ghannouchi voiced his support for “criminalizing the violation of the sacred.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan declared that “Islamophobia is a crime against humanity—it [the West] has encouraged it.”
Former President Bill Clinton actually did more to encourage Muslims to grapple with this application of their religion. In an interview, he blamed a “shame-based society” for the overreactions and said that Muslims should view such violence as a sign of insecurity about their faith.
“You’ve got to be able to say, if you believe in Islam, that I believe in a God and a prophet strong enough to withstand the criticisms of petty, narrow-minded, mean-spirited people, I believe that the cultural crassness I abhor will, in the end, fall before the values that I exalt,” Clinton said.
One positive part of Obama’s speech was his admission that the Iranian regime follows a “violent and unaccountable ideology” that cannot be handled with a policy of containment.
“Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty,” Obama said.
This is a different tone than the one Obama took when he offered his “outstretched hand” to Iran upon taking office. This is a positive development but the Iranian regime may dismiss it as the political maneuvering of a president seeking re-election. The consistent statements from administration officials warning about the perils of an Israeli strike on Iran are more likely to impact the calculations of the Iranian regime than the words of a single speech less than two months before an election.
The acknowledgement that the Iranian regime is guided by a dangerous ideology is particularly significant because Obama has long been part of the school of thought that believes that the West’s enemies are mostly responding to policy disputes instead of the demands of a radical ideology.
In a little-noticed interview in May 2008, he said that Hamas and Hezbollah must be shown “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims” (emphasis mine) but “if they decide to shift, we’re going to recognize that.”
He explained his belief that the behavior of Hamas and Hezbollah could be changed. “There are rarely purely ideological movements out there. We can encourage actors to think in practical and not ideological terms. We can strengthen those elements that are making practical calculations,” Obama said back then.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney focused on the ideological challenge in his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. He said that foreign aid must be “focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.”
On his campaign website, Romney says he’ll appoint a single regional director and consolidate all efforts related to the Middle East under the director’s authority in order to project soft power. The goal would be to “advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and opposing any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence. “
Egyptian President Morsi and Iranian President Ahmadinejad speak on Wednesday. The importance of understanding the true Islamist ideology will be on full display, and don’t be surprised if they boast that the U.S. agrees with them about the danger of “Islamophobia.”
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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