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President Obama has very carefully avoided speaking about Islamic terrorism and has repeatedly stated that “we are not at war with Islam!” But the Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, recently said,
‘France has been struck very much at its heart by terrorism—jihadist terrorism and radical Islamism, because let us call things like they are.”
(Read the whole article, it is worth the time: http://www.wsj.com/article_email/sohrab-ahmari-frances-anti-terror-free-market-socialist-1425080405-lMyQjAxMTA1NjI5ODcyOTgzWj)
What’s going on? Who is trying to mislead us?
I don’t really think Mr Obama is attempting to deceive us, but he might be under-estimating our ability to understand the divisions within Islam. It is not really that complicated until you attempt to get into the detail, but we don’t need to for our purposes here.
I also want to give him the benefit of the doubt, given his responsibilities and who he has been meeting with. He recently hosted a summit meeting on terrorism and gave his most comprehensive speech right after it finished last week. He made a very strong point of saying that we are not at war with Islam and that this is not about religion. For that he received repeated applause from those who had just emerged from the summit with him.
I have been in meetings like that. In fact my Reconciliation Walk team hosted symposia with all the senior religious leaders in Beirut, Damascus and Jerusalem. Some years later, I was at the Common Word event at Yale University. These were each very interesting and helpful, but I have to admit that only the people we call “moderates” turn out to events of this nature. I met some really interesting people at these meetings and made friends that have lasted for years.
On several occasions at these events, when the subject of violence and terror came up, I heard the confident assertion, “that is not Islam”. These were the moderates speaking. They come from very different schools of interpretation from those who identify with ISIS or Al Qaeda or Al Shabaab or Boko Haram or the countless other violent splinter groups that we have yet to hear from.
We can understand that position. For example, I was born into a Pentecostal church. This was a movement that exploded into view in the first decade of the 20th century and by 1912 had been rejected by the Roman Catholics and all the main Protestant denominations. The Protestants met together and decided that the movement was demonically inspired, so not worthy of the name “Christian”. The Pentecostals defended themselves by quoting the Bible and claiming that they were more Biblical than the others. A hundred years later, Pentecostalism is accepted as part, a very large part, of the Christian faith.
I appreciate those Muslims who are revolted by the violence of ISIS and I am sympathetic when they say, “that is not Islam!” But the self-appointed Caliph of ISIS, a man with a PhD in Islamic Law, will refute that claim by quoting the Koran and Muslim traditions. He and his followers will confidently claim that they are the only true Muslims because true Islam requires territory and people ruled by the strictest interpretation of Sharia and presided over by an all-powerful Caliph. That is what they now have in parts of Iraq and Syria.
So, back to the question: Is President Obama attempting to mislead us? No, I don’t think so. He just wants us all to be clear that Muslims are not our enemies. There really are a lot more peace loving Muslims than violent ones. However, he inadvertently misleads us when he says the terrorists are not Muslims. We cannot say that and it doesn’t help to try. These violent groups are comprised of people who are convinced that they are living out the mandate of the Prophet Mohammed more accurately than any people on earth.
We are not at war with Islam and we are not at war with all Muslims, but some Muslims are definitely at war with us!
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