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.

Untethered to logic and natural law

Follow this reasoning:

To say that safeguards for individual liberty do not have any intrinsic worth is to say that individual liberty does not have any intrinsic worth. To say that individual liberty does not have any intrinsic worth is to say that the individual human person does not have any intrinsic worth. This is to deny that we are endowed with rights by our Creator. To deny that is in effect to deny that there is a Creator. This is atheism and nihilism no less than moral relativism.

Who said this? Who said safeguards for individual liberty do not have any intrinsic worth in the first place?

Let’s rewind this. Hadley Arkes makes some clear, concise points here.

Our late Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, was rightly dubious about the woolly claims made for a “living Constitution.” They were claims made by judges and writers, soaring in high sentiments, but quite untethered to anything in the text of the Constitution or the logic of a regime of law. These were people who appealed, in effect, to a higher law, while usually insisting at the same time that there were no moral truths…

And so Rehnquist, speaking at a law school in 1973, took the occasion to exorcise the demon of natural law. He declared that the protections of human liberty contained in the Constitution did not have any moral standing on their own, with a claim to our respect. These safeguards, he said, do indeed “take on a generalized moral rightness or goodness,” and yet that was not “because of any intrinsic worth nor because of . . . someone’s idea of natural justice but instead simply because they have been incorporated in a constitution by a people.”

To which Professor Harry Jaffa replied with the “scathing commentary” at top. So this came to mind again this week, says Arkes, when reports came out about President Obama’s address to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which invoked the Declaration of Independence. As we know, Obama carefully chooses his words carefully, for what they say, and what they pointedly do not say.

In Obama’s rendering, they ran in this way: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What was left out of course was the “Creator” who endowed us with rights. George W. Bush, not usually credited by the media with high powers of mind, gave a truer version of the Founding principle when he famously observed that “we” did not give these rights to each other. If we gave these rights to each other – if we ourselves were the source of those rights or the authority that conferred – we could just as readily withdraw them. But those rights were thought to spring from the very nature of human beings: that no man was by nature the ruler of other men in the way that God was by nature the ruler of men, and men were by nature the rulers or horses and cows. These rights were thought then to spring from the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

From that perspective, there was nothing incomprehensible in saying that even that homeless man, who may have broken his own life, has an intrinsic dignity. For as diminished as he may be, we used to say that he was “made in the image” of something higher. But now a large portion of our political class shies away from acknowledging that Creator, the Author of Nature’s Laws. And Mr. Obama offers the most faithful reflection of that class and its state of mind. 

Arkes points out that Obama’s omission could hardly have been inadvertent. It’s “a kind of soft nihilism, backed into at times” and evidently to discerning ears and minds, at this time by this president.

If rights are not endowed by the Creator, from where do they come?

James Wilson, one of the most thoughtful of the Founders, raised the question: If we have natural rights, when do they begin? And his answer was: as soon as we begin to be. Which is why, as he said, that the Common Law casts its protection over human life “when the infant is first able to stir in the womb.” That line, too, is likely to be omitted from any speech by President Obama.

Especially given his answer when, as candidate for president, Pastor Rick Warren asked him the simple question…”at what point does a baby get human rights?”

Obama is still campaigning

Throughout the past year and more so in recent times, some analysts have said Barack Obama is much more skilled at campaigning than governing.  He likes to take issues directly to the people and whip up emotional reaction in the crowds through commanding rhetoric.

But that routine has grown more transparent. Just recently, MSNBC noted Obama is trying to tap into the anger his administration has caused and lead the call for change. Even though what the people want is change from his administration’s politics.

Now, he’s campaigning again, taking his health care reform plan to the people and trying to whip up support. But as usual, he does this by blaming others for the people’s discontent and…leading the call for change.

Let’s take a look at this

Trying to rally the public and put more pressure on Congress to act quickly, President Obama on Monday took to the road to castigate insurance companies and urged voters to lobby for passage of the healthcare overhaul….

Obama argued that his healthcare proposal trumped politics.

Sure. Just say it convincingly and it will be so. (Oddly, the advice to Dorothy comes to mind….”Just tap your heels three times and say ‘I want to go home’…”)

“I don’t know how passing healthcare will play politically, but I do know that it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If you share that belief, I want you to stand with me and fight with me. And I ask you to help us get us over the finish line these next few weeks.

Okay, look….

Virtually nobody is saying health care is the wrong thing to do. Let’s be honest. We universally share that belief. But note the lack of specifics in this appeal to emotion by the community organizer-in-chief.

“The need is great,” he said. “The opportunity is here. Let’s seize reform. It’s within our grasp.”

When read as text in print and not heard with the dramatic delivery and staged backdrops, it’s just general blanket rhetoric. And he’s got plenty of that.

“The time for talk is over,” Obama said. “We need to see where people stand. And we need all of you to help us win that vote. So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone. When you hear an argument by the water cooler and somebody is saying this or that about it, say, no, no, no, no, hold on a second.

What? Oh, he’s whipping up emotions again. Forget facts. They just bog things down.

And we need you to make your voices heard all the way in Washington, D.C.

No kidding.

“They need to hear your voices because right now the Washington echo chamber is in full throttle. It is as deafening as it’s ever been. And as we come to that final vote, that echo chamber is telling members of Congress, wait, think about the politics — instead of thinking about doing the right thing,” he said.

No, the people with whom this overhaul is so unpopular are crying ‘do the right thing’. It’s the party leadership voices echoing through the chambers that are warning members to think about the politics.

The White House has said the president would like to see the House act before he leaves for Asia on March 18, but House leaders have indicated they would be happy if that chamber acts before Easter break at the end of the month.

Just get it done, they demand. Because it’s critical to the president’s legacy.

Mr. Obama’s closing arguments are lending credence to rank-and-file fears that they’re getting played. Democrats are telling reporters that Mr. Obama has been telling them in private meetings that his Presidency, and the party’s claim to any achievement, rests on passing a bill. With barely any mention of substance, the right bill is any bill, by any political means necessary.

Even false promises.

Then there’s House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s far-fetched suggestion to Mr. [Bart] Stupak and the antiabortion [pro-life] bloc that Democrats can take care of their concerns in a third bill, which everyone knows will fail in the Senate if it even comes to the floor.

In this wilderness of political mirrors, anything is possible.

But because he sealed the deal on the campaign trail before, we will see Mr. Obama there again, as long as it takes. Or works.

Healthcare reform turns on abortion

We do have some principled leadership in Congress, after all. Especially the Democrat who refuses to buckle under massive pressure from the White House, Senate and House powerbrokers and most of the big media opinionmakers: Bart Stupak. He’s sending them all into a tailspin.

It’s making for dramatic headlines and re-centering the focus of attention on today’s civil rights movement….the right to life.

A dozen House of Representatives Democrats opposed to abortion are willing to kill President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plan unless it satisfies their demand for language barring the procedure, Representative Bart Stupak said on Thursday.

“Yes. We’re prepared to take responsibility,” Stupak said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” when asked if he and his 11 Democratic allies were willing to accept the consequences for bringing down healthcare reform over abortion.

“Let’s face it. I want to see healthcare. But we’re not going to bypass the principles of belief that we feel strongly about,” he said.

The Michigan Democrat held up House legislation last year until he was satisfied that its language prevented federal tax dollars from being used to fund abortions.

While others are caving in through compromise deals and other bargains and arm-twisting, Stupak and gang are holding out, thankfully tethered to their moral compass.

This same story quotes Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assuring that federal funds won’t be spent on abortion. But at this point, given that the Senate version of health care reform is the engine driving the train, that’s just as much a misleading statement (okay, a lie) as Senator Reid’s protestations at the health care summit that Democrats were even thinking about reconciliation and Speaker Pelosi’s protestations at that summit declaring that abortion would be covered in the plans, and President Obama’s claims about nearly all of it.

So most of Mr. Obama’s first year in office has been paralyzed over nothing more than minor regulatory hair-splitting. This is so preposterous that the President can’t possibly believe it.

Congress’s spring break begins on March 29, and Democratic leaders plan on jamming this monster through Congress before then. Americans have to hope that enough rank-and-file Democrats aren’t as deaf to fiscal honesty as this President.

And moral responsibility. At least Bart Stupak is hearing….and speaking….with clarity.

(Note: For anyone in the Chicago region at the end of April, Stupak will be speaking as keynote at the Illinois Catholic Prayer Breakfast on April 30th, on the role of moral leadership and faithful citizenship in social policies these days. And God only knows how Stupak and his moral holdouts will fare between now and then. Ought to be one interesting moment of truth for everyone involved. Here’s the info.)

Obama’s shifting strategy

His rapid trajectory of political success started on the streets and in neighborhood gatherings on the south side of Chicago, and now the Community Organizer-in-Chief is applying his street savvy instincts again to the conditions he finds people in, which is change they didn’t count on.

Interesting strategy. The people are angry at the way business is being done, but he sees their anger and jumps into the crowd and tries to lead the charge against….what’s making them angry. Never mind that it’s how business is being done under him.

Obama’s expansive domestic goals are largely the same, but his message is changing, now constructed around a concession that the public is disillusioned and wanting results. If he cannot show people that he understands their frustration and is working to fix it, the risks are real.

All that angst that Obama wants to harness as a force for change — as he did in his campaign — will turn against him. That means eroding public support for his agenda and potentially big losses for his party this year in congressional midterm elections.

Obama realized that the voter frustration he had played on to win the White House was exactly the same force behind Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts.

A new White House talking point was born, and it was hardly hope and change.

On that same day of postelection analysis, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs used some description of anger, frustration or both 12 times to describe what people were feeling, including this one: “That anger is now pointed at us, because we’re in charge. Rightly so.”

There’s some rare introspection from this White House.

So the new strategy is identifying with the people’s anger, saying he understands that and shares their frustration, and then proceeding to blame lack of progress on someone else.

He must connect to people’s bitterness without becoming exactly the person he warns about, politicians who exploit anger. And he has to personally relate to people’s wrenching financial losses when his natural style is to speak in a professorial, explanatory way.

Even Obama has lamented a sense of public detachment from all his difficult first-year work, and has said he wants to do an improved job of communicating directly to people.

That’s getting noticeably harder suddenly, after the health care summit showed him moderating a seven hour debate with Republicans, and a new row has erupted in liberal media quarters over some internal dissension in the highest White House ranks.

Beyond the disloyalty and all that, the real reason the Milbank column has enraged so many left-wing bloggers and liberal columnists is that Emanuel’s understanding of the political landscape puts him in the reality-based community. And that is a community the Obama cult refuses to join.

So, ultimately, he can’t organize it. But the citizens are capable of doing that now on their own.

At the beginning of the day

Before the health care ‘summit’ began Thursday morning, there was plenty of media skepticism over whether Washington politicians, in the Congress and the administration, can actually put bitter partisanship aside and finally and responsibly deliberate over the people’s business. Consensus is that it’s doubtful.

The Financial Times captures the ideas pretty well in this brief editorial.

Tuesday’s meeting of Barack Obama and congressional leaders from both parties to discuss healthcare is, first and foremost, a political show – but do not underestimate its importance. Badly needed reform hangs in the balance, and so do the wider prospects for Mr Obama’s presidency.

The theatrical aspect of this televised “summit” is apparent. There is no will on either side to compromise. The Republicans are intent on blocking comprehensive reform. The president’s new proposal, on the other hand, merges bills recently passed by partisan majorities in the House and Senate, offering no concession to conservative complaints. Each party simply aims to embarrass the other.

Shamefully true. And they make the sorry point that it is also “sadly” true that partisan tactical moves on camera in front of the nation will wind up being the measure of success. Like how well Mr. Obama can obscure Democrats’ plan to make a power play, or can ‘expose Republicans’ failure to offer an alternative’.

Which leads FT to this conclusion:

Outreach to Republicans on matters such as medical liability reform would improve the president’s proposal, lend it a bipartisan flavour and impress many voters. Mr Obama should attempt that today. Unfortunately, he knows that this approach risks worsening the Democrats’ splits, and would most likely elicit no new Republican support. And so the show goes on: a deeply dispiriting struggle, with no resolution yet in sight.

We’ll see, at the end of the day.