by Richard Butrick (November 2014)
It just doesn’t seem to be catching on.
It started for him in Indonesia where, as a “little Jakarta street kid” he found the Muslim call to prayer to be “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”
He spent four years as a child in Indonesia which is a predominantly Muslim country. He attended schools in Indonesia and learned the Indonesian language. Even now he speaks fondly and with reverence of his first-hand experience of Islam in Indonesia
But even as this land of my youth has changed in so many ways, those things that I learned to love about Indonesia — that spirit of tolerance that is written into your constitution, symbolized in your mosques and churches and temples standing alongside each other; that spirit that is embodied in your people — that still lives on.
But it is not just the Indonesia of his youth that inspires his version of true Islam. As he underscored in his Cairo speech in 2009.
So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
Basically the President’s version of “true” Islam is that of a tolerant, ecumenical, inclusive religion which fully supports human rights and which is not supremacist or demeaning of women or minorities. Historically, Islamic rule came to fruition during the “Golden Age of Islam” characterized by a flourishing of science, medicine, scholarship and architecture. It is what civilization is all about.
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.
The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.
The Holy Koran tells us, “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
The President speaks of Islam from personal experience. He has lived true Islam. Someone of no mean perception who speaks from personal experience must know whereof he speaks.
The plausible underlying precept is that a man of reasonable acuity who speaks from personal experience must know whereof he speaks and speaks then with authority.
There are, shall we say, several problems with this.
One’s personal experience is hardly universal and may not even be representative. It may in fact be unusual. Is the President’s personal experience of living in predominantly Muslim countries – especially his youthful experiences, which seem to indelibly stamp his perception of true Islam – somehow more representative of Islam than the experience of the butchered, enslaved and prostituted Yazidis or the persecuted Christians driven out of Iraq during the Maliki regime? Somehow his experience of an inclusive tolerant Islam counts more than that of Malala Yousafzai, the courageous 15-year-old campaigner for girls’ education shot by the Taliban while sitting in her school van. If one bothers to think about it, it is rather insulting.
And these children? A childhood under Islam slightly different from that of President Obama?
Sheik Feiz Mohammed, leader of the Global Islamic Youth Center in Sydney, Australia, preached: “We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid.”
As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech: “It is the zenith of honor for a man, a young person, boy or girl, to be prepared to sacrifice his life in order to serve the interests of his nation and his religion.”
Moreover, just because one has first hand experience of living in XYZ doesn’t mean that one thereby is knowledgeable about XYZ. Just because one is an American doesn’t mean one knows about the Constitution or much of anything about American history. And the 20-something English citizen? Sure to be knowledgeable about the Magna Carta or the Battle of Britain? The Argument from Experience is hardly a clincher.
Aside from the Argument from Personal Experience there are two other lines of argument that President Obama uses. The Argument from History and the Argument from Textual Analysis.
In his Cairo speech the President extolled the Golden Age of Islam as a period of ecumenicism, tolerance and a flourishing of intellectual and cultural life from medicine to astronomy to architecture and philosophy. Indeed his position is coin of the realm:
The existence of a Muslim kingdom in Medieval Spain where different races and religions lived harmoniously in multicultural tolerance is one of today’s most widespread myths. University professors teach it. Journalists repeat it. Tourists visiting the Alhambra accept it. It has reached the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, which sings the virtues of the “pan-confessional humanism” of Andalusian Spain.
Coin of the realm, no doubt, but in fact more hype than reality. Take the case of the rule of Abd al-Rahman III (912-961), “The Servant of the Merciful,” the Caliph of Cordoba, which is supposedly the apogee of the Golden Age:
He took the city to heights of splendor not seen since the days of Harunal- Rashid’s Baghdad, financed largely through the taxation of Catholics and Jews and the booty and tribute obtained in military incursions against Catholic lands. He also punished Muslim rebellions mercilessly, thereby keeping the lid on the boiling cauldron that was multicultural al- Andalus. His rule presumably marks the zenith of Islamic tolerance. Al-Mansur (d. 1002), “The One Made Victorious by Allah,” implemented in al-Andalus in 978 a ferocious military dictatorship backed by a huge army. In addition to building more palaces and subsidizing the arts and sciences in Cordoba, he burned heretical books and terrorized Catholics, sacking Zaragoza, Osma, Zamora, Leon, Astorga, Coimbra, and Santiago de Compostela. In 985 he burned down Barcelona, enslaving all those he did not kill.
But be that as it may, let us presume that the President has grounds for his admiration. What is the suppressed conclusion? Therefore we have nothing to fear in Muslim rule? The advance of Islam is to be welcomed and we will once again all live in Andalusia? Suddenly Muslim rulers like Khomeini and Khamenei will become benign Caliphates of culture and ecumenicism? ISIS’s commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has a Ph.D in Islamic Studies, will establish great multicultural universities? In this context, the Argument from History proves nothing. It is if one were to argue that if we just embrace the Greek gods we will relive the glory that was Greece.
Even shakier is President Obama’s appeal to the Koran. Yes there are passages that seem to support human rights and ecumenicism and tolerance and pluralism but they come chronologically before Muhammad’s military triumph in Medina and are abrogated by thoroughly nasty supremacist passages in the post-Medina or later Koran. It is those who piously intone that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and inclusiveness that have to do the tap-dancing around the explicit exhortations in the post-Medina Koran to annihilate Christians, Jews and infidels. It is the apologists who must maintain that such passages do not mean what they explicitly say. Moreover, to argue that Allah’s exhortations must be contextualized to the situation on the ground that faced Muhammad is to argue that Allah is guiding Muhammad rather than using Muhammad to relay universal commandments. Arguing that one must understand what is going on in Muhammad’s life to understand the Koran is to argue that Allah is coaching Muhammad rather than laying out the fundamentals of Islam.
As Spencer, McCarthy, and Solway have pointed out, without a convoluted, tortured re-interpretation of the violent passages directed at Christians, Jews and infidels in the later Koran, the distinction between Islam and Islamism is a distinction without a difference. Moreover, Spencer makes a compelling case that ISIS’s commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is on solid ground in maintaining that it is he who is taking Allah at his word and not pretending that what Allah says must be deciphered, contextualized, inverted and bowdlerized.
Raymond Ibrahim, in a truly insightful analysis, uses the 3-fold test used in practice by Muslim authorities to determine whether an action is “Islamic”: (1) is it explicitly countenanced in the Koran; (2) is it explicitly endorsed in the hadith and sira texts; (3) is it approved by the ulema (Islam’s most learned men). The documented conclusive result is that beheadings, crucifixions, massacres, enslavements, and subjugation of religious minorities is Islamic – with the caveat that Islam’s useful idiots and Islamodupes who believe “defaming Islam is as bad as rape” be reassured, in the best practice of taqiyya, that they are not.
There is serious danger here. Obama’s dreamy analysis of Islam is not working on the ground. It is a case of reality dissonance to cling to a version of reality based on a childhood remembrance that necessitates claiming that what is happening on the ground in the name of Islam and is overtly sanctioned by the Koran and confirmed by the ulema/figh, has nothing to do with real Islam. It is as if President Obama thinks the real danger is the US and, indeed, other European countries who do not embrace his version of Islam and suffer from the dreaded Islamophobia. It is as if the President thinks that curing the Islamophobic West of its “negative stereotypes of Islam” is the key to bringing true Islam into fruition – the wonderful world of true Islam of Obama’s childhood. And, as we all know, childhood memories are an informed, accurate basis for forming lifelong convictions.
The version? The “real” Islam of President Obama and his Secretary of State, Kerry, and of the President’s administration generally? It is nowhere to be found.
But credit where credit is due. President Obama and his administration seem to be on message that no religion worthy of the name in this day and age countenances beheadings, crucifixions, massacres, enslavement, and subjugation of religious minorities. They just don’t seem to be able to draw the obvious conclusion.
Dr. Richard Butrick is an American writer who has published in Mind, Philosophy of Science, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, International Journal of Computer Mathematics among others.
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