Herbert London: Rewriting The National Prayer Breakfast Speech
Anyone who has seen the shocking video of a Jordanian pilot being immolated, understands the savagery in the Islamic State (IS). President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast speech on February 5 responded with nonjudgmental relativism to this act and other recent horrific events, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” It doesn’t seem as if he does understand.
Christ didn’t countenance violence. Islam, or at least an interpretation of Islam, does. Within Islam there is a debate between Wahabbists who dominate doctrine and others who claim the violence within the religion must be extirpated.
Although his speech received scant attention in the West, President al Sisi did argue that soul searching within Islam is necessary. In fact, he called for a “revolution” from within. He is not alone. Aref Ali Nayed, the Libyan Ambassador to the UAE wrote, “…it can help us achieve a Libyan ‘Jeffersonian’ democracy that is rooted in Libyan’s 1000-year-old Islamic tradition, a tradition that is inherited from our forefathers that is balanced between doctrine, jurisprudence, and spirituality.”
Whether there is a tradition of peace within Islam is a matter left to scholars; however, giving this position the attention it deserves should be left to policy makers. Ambassador Nayed deserves our attention and, I would hastily add, our gratitude. There is more than one position in Islam. Unfortunately the propaganda war is being won by IS. Its videos have a perverse appeal for poor misguided souls all over the world. There is a romantic, almost aphrodisiacal quality to these productions that seduce feckless schoolgirls and prisoners who are told Islam is their salvation.
Instead of moral equivalence, President Obama should be asserting the romance in the Western tradition, a romance that challenges the absolutism of radical Islam and allows for individual rights.
The war we are fighting against radical Islam is a war similar to the one against Nazism and Communism. These ideologies promoted tyranny in the name of the State. Radical Islam promotes absolute obedience in the name of the Umma or the Caliphate. It is the same inhumane policy that uses people as a mechanism to serve the abstraction of state authority.
This propaganda war is being lost; one, because we cannot stand up for our own tradition as President Obama’s speech suggested and two, because we do not fully appreciate the extent and success of the enemy’s imposition of will. Ambassador Nayed, a pious Muslim, wrote in reference to the propaganda efforts of extremists, “This is a cancer, a deep mass psychosis that has taken root and metastasized across the Islamic world. It is a virus that has spread rapidly via social media.”
Yet a counter narrative, one that that limns the virtue of Western thought and simultaneously points out the fanatical belief in Paradise through murder and sexual depreciation, is missing. We must defeat IS in Iraqi and Syria, battlefields, but we must also destroy an ideology that poisons young minds. That latter process resides with the Sisis and Nayeds who fight for what they see as the perversion of their religion. We should give them succor; at the very least publicize their courageous stance.
If President Obama misinterprets the history of the West or places blame on the precincts in our culture, he should, at least, point to those Muslims who are trying to extricate a religion from the harness of radical sentiments. That would be refreshing and might even be an appropriate statement at a National Prayer Breakfast.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries atwww.londoncenter.org
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