Invoking the Crusades

Did Obama do a moral equivalency of Christian Crusaders with Islamic terrorists today?

Well, yes. But he won’t call them “Islamic”, though that’s what they call themselves.

Expert analysts are talking daily now about the president’s refusal to address the threat we face globally. Time after time he’s had the opportunity, notably in the State of the Union address in January.

But in addressing the National Prayer Breakfast last week, Obama turned it into a chance to call religious extremism out. Of sorts.

In his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama condemned violence in the name of religion and pointed to religious groups other than the Islamic State that have perpetrated acts of terror in human history.

Note, other than the Islamic State, which has mutilated, crucified, beheaded, raped, enslaved, burned alive, beaten to death, tortured and terrorized countless populations of innocent women, children, men, elderly, anyone and everyone in their path.

Obama continued with this astonishing statement:

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place,” the president said, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Oh geesh. This is more than a ‘here we go again’ moment. This is critical mass. The president of the United States. Going there.

Our news is increasingly made up of one outrageous act of barbarism committed in the name of Allah after another…

Against this backdrop of horror, our President feels the need to step back and take the long view. Instead of talking about Islam’s connection to the slavery of young girls right now, the President wants to lecture us on Christianity’s connection to slavery 150 years ago. Instead of condemning ISIS’ undeniable connection to Muhammad right now, he wants to re-focus our attention on the Crusaders and the Inquisition. Instead of condemning the Charlie Hebdo attackers Islamic extremism in a clear voice he wants to also condemn those who insult the faith of others (as if these two things were equally problematic).

This is not a much needed exercise in humility. This is a dodge, a cop out.

The ongoing threat to peace and human dignity from religion is not coming from Christianity, nor does it stem from Christian arrogance. The Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria, in Syria and Iraq, and in Egypt do not need a lecture on humility. The President ought to drop the moral equivalence and confront the threat we face in the here and now. And if he feels the need to lecture on religious humility, there is one religion that desperately needs to grasp the concept, right now in this century. In case it’s not already clear, that religion is not Christianity.

So in the name of Christianity, and for the purpose of clarifying the history of the Crusades now that we have this window opportunity, here are a couple of good articles by academics who know what they’re talking about.

Author and historian Thomas Madden.

Most people in the West do not believe that they have been prosecuting a continuous Crusade against Islam since the Middle Ages. But most do believe that the Crusades started the problems that plague and endanger us today. Westerners in general (and Catholics in particular) find the Crusades a deeply embarrassing episode in their history. As the Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven graphically proclaimed, the Crusades were unprovoked campaigns of intolerance preached by deranged churchmen and fought by religious zealots against a sophisticated and peaceful Muslim world. According to the Hollywood version, the blind violence of the Crusades gave birth to jihad, as the Muslims fought to defend themselves and their world. And for what? The city of Jerusalem, which was both “nothing and everything,” a place filled with religion that “drives men mad.”

On September 11, 2001, there were only a few professional historians of the Crusades in America. I was the one who was not retired. As a result, my phone began ringing and didn’t stop for years. In the hundreds of interviews I have given since that terrible day, the most common question has been, “How did the Crusades lead to the terrorist attacks against the West today?” I always answered: “They did not. The Crusades were a medieval phenomenon with no connection to modern Islamist terrorism.”

But you have to be open to learning the truth to accept that and stay with the article, short as it is. Madden knows this, too well.

It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”

Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions.

Which obviously includes the president.

Madden continued teaching, for those who were open to learning. Here’s a piece he wrote two years later.

Many historians had been trying for some time to set the record straight on the Crusades — misconceptions are all too common. These historians are not revisionists, but mainstream scholars offering the fruit of several decades of very careful, very serious scholarship. For them, current interest is a “teaching moment,” an opportunity to explain the Crusades while people are actually listening. It won’t last long, so here goes…

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression — an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity — and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion — has no abode.

It’s an extensive piece, well worth reading to learn the history of the Crusades. Take the time for it, too few people in media and politics will.

But they should get this from Madden’s conclusion:

From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished.

Stopping the atrocities of ISIS

We have to know the enemy we’re confronting. How close are we to that task?

Thirteen years after 9/11/2001, not close, it appears.

The president finally steps up to act. There are at least as many questions about what he says as shows of support for it.

The beheadings of two U.S. captives by Islamic State have steeled lawmakers to the need for more military action, and both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders were supportive of Obama’s plan on Wednesday.

But some Republicans in particular say they want more information from the administration about its wider strategy to combat global terrorism, and many would prefer a broad vote rather than one focused on funding.

Meanwhile…

Democrats are crossing the aisle again, this time as they voice strong support for attacking Islamic State, though the overwhelming majority of lawmakers from both parties oppose the idea of sending in any U.S. ground troops…

The White House has said Obama does not believe he needs Congress’ formal authorization to attack Islamic State.

And therein lies another problem.

Obama flatly said–sure, in the midst of saying he has already won congressional support for doing this (war against ISIL)–that he has the authority to do this. Period.

This reflects Obama’s contempt for all matters constitutional. He consistently abdicates his responsibility to use occasions like this to remind and inform the public about the constitutional issues involved. Now, I think he does have the authority to do this, but he needs to explain why…

I want a president who openly says, “Look, here’s a law on the books, and when I can abide by it without compromising our security I will, and thus I will go before Congress as the statute says, and thus seem to need its after-the-fact ratification of my decision to go to war, but this is not one of those cases, so I’m going to ignore this unconstitutional law.” Or, I want one who says, “I intend to obey the War Powers Act, because it’s law, and it’s constitutional.” Or I at least want one who says, “Hey, opinions on the constitutionality of the law are divided, and I’m going to consult Congress as much as I can and make the decision about whether to abide by its timetables only when the deadline comes.” But this blank “I have the power” talk telegraphs contempt for the intelligence of the American people, and for their duty to know their Constitution. Of course, a public that accepted that duty would cause problems for Obama in other areas.

And besides…

Isn’t it time we had a president who says aloud the obvious fact that when you massacre a bunch of Christians, you’re making it that much more likely that the American public will demand that the U.S. attack you? Right now, this would be a useful thing for certain terror organizations in Africa to hear…

Yes, really. Even, and especially, support from moral leaders in the Democratic Party.

And leading voices in media who join them in calling for relief from the onslaught of evil. Kathryn Jean Lopez covers that in this post at National Review Online.

But that circles back to the question at the beginning, do we, or does the administration, know the enemy?

Some learned views…

Charles Krauthammer:

Charles Krauthammer said President Obama’s was forced to develop his forthcoming plan to defeat the Islamic State because of the shift in public opinion. “This is a man who’s been dragged kicking and screaming to face reality,” Krauthammer said. “This is a classic example of leading from behind where he [Obama] waits for public opinion and now it’s the public who’s demanding he does something. Americans don’t like to see other Americans killed on television by a prideful enemy like that and our president doing nothing.”

He went on to say if the videos showing the beheading of two American journalists had never been released, Obama’s strategy toward the Islamic State would be completely different. “It changed everything,” Krauthammer said. “It [the videos] changed public opinion—and Obama is nothing if not responsive to public opinion. He doesn’t lead. Here it’s the public that’s leading.”

Because the public is seeing the brutality and threat of this manifestation of totalitarianism.

If we are to defeat the violent Islamist radicals who are today threatening the world, we must shine the brightest of spotlights on this malignant idea at the heart of their ideology. And we must counter it, not just with the force of arms, but with a compelling defense of the anti-totalitarian idea of morally ordered freedom.

What defines totalitarianism is a list of shocking and unprecedented demands:

Give fanatical leaders and movements absolute and permanent authority.
Make these leaders and their followers into virtual gods, charged to take control of history and transform humanity itself.
Release them from accountability to any law and institution, belief and custom, moral norm and precept.
Grant them complete control of every facet of human existence, from outward conduct to the innermost workings of conscience and belief.
The rise of this extremist ideology to prominence coincided with a deep crisis of faith that engulfed Europe after the carnage of World War I nearly a century ago. In response to this crisis, totalitarianism – initially in communist and fascist forms – rose to fill the void. Its vision amounted to the state’s replacing God as central to all things, while anointing certain people and their movements as humanity’s new leaders, deserving the ultimate powers once reserved for the deity.

For the better part of a century, totalitarianism has donned its share of masks and hijacked key vehicles in its efforts to subjugate the world….

The same totalitarian impulse that drove Nazism and communism has hijacked religion as its latest vehicle, creating radical Islamism.

From ISIL to Iran’s mullahs, and from al-Qaeda to the Taliban, these new totalitarians pose similar threats to freedom, dignity, and peace. Displaying characteristic contempt for the rule of law and the crucial distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the conduct of war, they have deliberately targeted civilians and resorted to mass murder, precisely as the Nazis and Communists did.

And here’s a bottom line…

the struggle we face today does not pit one religion against others, nor is it a battle of religion against humanity; rather, it is a struggle pitting lawlessness and tyranny against freedom and dignity. The irony is that this time it is being trotted out in religion’s name.

In this struggle, Muslims have a duty to their faith and to humanity to stand resolutely against Islam’s hijacking by people driven by the same diabolical impulse that unleashed the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot on the world. They must rip away its religious mask and reveal its idolatrous soul before the world.

The religious ideology of this group must be understood to be addressed. But the president keeps sidestepping the Islamic factor in this battle of civilizations.

In a televised address on how to address the Islamic State this evening, President Barack Obama declared the organization variously known as ISIS or ISIL to be “not Islamic.”

In making this preposterous claim, Obama joins his two immediate predecessors in pronouncing on what is not Islamic. Bill Clinton called the Taliban treatment of women and children “a terrible perversion of Islam.” George W. Bush deemed that 9/11 and other acts of violence against innocents “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

None of the three has any basis for such assertions. To state the obvious: As non-Muslims and politicians, rather than Muslims and scholars, they are in no position to declare what is Islamic and what is not. As Bernard Lewis, a leading American authority of Islam, notes: “It is surely presumptuous for those who are not Muslims to say what is orthodox and what is heretical in Islam.”

The president and his spokesmen claim to not be at war with the extremists who declared war on the US.

In a truly shameful display, the administration has spent the day after President Barack Obama’s address to the nation outlining his proposed response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by downplaying his address to the nation…

On its face, it seems like the administration is sending mixed signals. The president made a rather clear case for a long campaign aimed at rolling back the nascent Islamic State in Iraq and eventually confronting them in their Syrian stronghold. Sources have suggested that this is a mission which will likely outlast the Obama presidency. So why pull punches today?

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Which is a big deal.

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Instead, the White House can point to the 2001 authorization targeting al-Qaeda, even though the White House had previously argued that the resolution was dated and should be repealed.

Kerry, too, asserted that ISIS “is and has been al-Qaeda.”

“By trying to change its name, it doesn’t change who it is, what it does,” he added.

Just don’t tell them that. “In a message posted on jihadi websites the al-Qaeda general command stated that its former affiliate ‘is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group [and al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions,’” Time Magazine reported in February.

The White House’s insistence that the present campaign is merely a continuation of George W. Bush’s War on Terror is unlikely to quiet the increasingly loud voices in Congress demanding a vote on a new authorization.

Okay, well, even if we’re playing legal games with the word “war” and are trying to avoid the politics of getting the people’s representatives to sanction military action abroad, at least there is a plan for victory, right?

“What does victory look like here?” Earnest was asked on Thursday. “What does destroy mean?”

“I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary,” Earnest replied.

So while this nonsense has been going on, so has this. Read it and weep for her, and for her family and the countless other families of religious minorities in Iraq and other countries targeted by extremist Islamic actions to dehumanize or eliminate them. This is going on every day, like the other atrocities we’re hearing about, representing the countless others we don’t hear about.

I had a US Congressman as a guest on my radio show this week to talk about this, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. He has been a champion of humanitarian rights. Immediately after the program, listeners spoke up asking that his voice of clarity and leadership be posted online. It is on the network show page, and on the app.

Here it is, in the first half of the show, on 9/10. Or in the podcast on the app. Around 15 minutes in, he’s compelling.

We can do a lot. Complacency is not an option.