Religious Intolerance

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President Obama’s remarks about the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast last week have been fodder for conservative critics since they pounced on his words immediately afterwards. Never mind context. Nuance is for suckers, apparently.

The statement was part of a broader plea for religious tolerance and understanding as we face the rise of Islamic extremism in our world. President Obama’s suggestion that we get off our “high horse” and recognize the terrible deeds that have been done supposedly in the name of Christianity speaks to the hypocrisy and danger of recent anti-Muslim furor.

I find it interesting that conservative critics seized upon the Crusades comments while ignoring Obama’s reminder of the home grown terror whites have visited upon blacks from the time of slavery. We don’t have to go back even to the days of slavery to find instances of cross burning and lynchings on the part of the “Christian” terrorist group known as the Ku Klux Klan.

After the horrific immolation of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS, memes started popping up on Facebook with quotes such as “I will kill his wife and his friends,” purportedly stated by King Abdullah of Jordan. Violent revenge is not a useful strategy for defeating an enemy, yet the comments following these memes were heartily approving.

I do not necessarily object to a military operation to defeat ISIS. But the point that the president was making is that evil lurks in the hearts of most human beings. Stating that Christianity has also been used as a pretext for barbarism does not excuse Islamic extremists. And I do not think President Obama was trying to excuse it. He was merely appealing for a measure of calm, indeed a humbling of ourselves before the Almighty, before we sharpen our swords.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “If you are truly appalled by the brutality of ISIS, then a wise and essential step is understanding the lure of brutality, and recalling how easily your own society can be, and how often it has been, pulled over the brink.” (theatlantic.com, Feb. 6, 2015)

The rise of Islamic extremism poses great dangers and challenges for us as a nation. Let’s keep the politics out of it, and let’s not lose our humanity in the process.

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