This week, President Barack Obama reacted to the murder of journalist James Foley by announcing that American involvement in the religious civil war in Iraq will escalate. The execution of Foley by the removal of his head was of course an inexcusable act.
What isn’t clear is how increasing American military involvement in Iraq can make up for the atrocity, given that the US military just got done spending almost an entire decade clearing Iraq of Muslim extremists. We got rid of Al Quaida in Iraq. Now ISIS/ISIL has popped up. Get rid of ISIS/ISIL this time, and another group of violent Muslim extremists will probably pop up and commit atrocities again. Barack Obama has failed to explain what he intends to do done differently this time, to avoid the failures of the last Iraq War.
Obama doesn’t seem to have a plan for his new Iraq War at all, only reacting to political pressure to do something. The politics of religion in particular seems to distort his analysis of the situation in Iraq in dangerous ways. Obama only decided that the US should return to war in Iraq after he received political pressure from American Christians to protect Christians and Yazidis in Iraq. Before those religious groups were targeted in the Iraqi civil war, Obama seemed content to stay out of the mess.
The twisted religious motivations of the Iraq War were in evidence again in Obama’s statement condemning the decapitation of James Foley, when, even as he condemned the religiously-inspired warriors of ISIS/ISIL, he sought to claim that religion has nothing at all to do with the Iraqi civil war. He said, “They have murdered Muslims – both Sunni and Shia – by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people. So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”
ISIL speaks for no religion?
The inclination to avoid blaming all Muslims for the actions of some is admirable. However, it is naive of Barack Obama to pretend that Islam is a religion of peace, from which the actions of ISIL are a bizarre departure.
In the very same paragraph where he claims that ISIL is irreligious, he acknowledges that their motivations are religious, that they kill people “for no other reason than they practice a different religion”. ISIL certainly does speak for a religion – not an entire religion, but they do speak for a religion nonetheless. The old saying that actions speak louder than words comes to mind.
That ISIL’s victims are overwhelmingly Muslim has no bearing on the fact that ISIL’s violence is speaking for a branch of Islam. When Mary Tudor engaged in her vicious burning of Protestants at the stake, all of her victims were Christians, but that didn’t change the fact that she was speaking for her branch of Christianity when she committed her own atrocities.
When ISIS/ISIL spokesmman Abu Mosa pledged to “raise the flag of Allah” over the White House, he was speaking for his religion. Many Muslims disagree with him, but that’s how religions are. Multiple people speak for every religion, with multiple messages, each reflecting some aspect of their religion, often disagreeing with each other. To deny the violent strain within Islam is absurd, just as it is absurd to deny the violent strain within Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism – yes, Buddhism.
No faith teaches people to massacre innocents?
This claim is obviously false to anyone who knows just a bit of religious history. Most religions have, at some time, implored their followers to massacre innocents.
Of course, it isn’t just Islam that has a history of teaching people to massacre innocents. Christians’ holy book contains many passages in which their god commands his followers to kill entire villages of people, even the babies. Christians can’t honestly claim that these biblical genocides are something that their religion was absolved of when Jesus came along and declared that God had changed his mind about the old laws. The New Testament contains passages clearly approving of the old religious genocide, and promising new terrors to come for unbelievers. Christians also have been happy to use the Bible’s genocides as justification of their own, as in the slaughter of Native Americans by American colonists.
No just God would stand for what they did… and for what the do every single day?
Here, Barack Obama gets to the height of his religious absurdity. If no just god would stand for the violence of ISIS/ISIL, then how come Barack Obama’s god allows ISIL/ISIS to go on doing it, as Obama says, “every single day”? The god of Obama’s religion is supposed to be all-powerful, so that he could stop the violence at any time, if he wanted to.
Either Obama’s god is not really all powerful, or is not really just, or does not exist at all.
The motivation behind this part of Obama’s speech seems to be to discourage anti-Islamic hatred in the United States. That motivation is laudable, but the execution in sloppy, and thus undermines itself. There’s no need to assert historical and theological absurdities in order to urge a mood of toleration among members of different religions here in the United States.
All President Obama needed to say is that, although religious differences have led people in Iraq to hate each other violently, we don’t need to do the same, because here in the United States, all people are equal under the law, regardless of religion. We don’t have to promote ridiculous fantasies about the purity of religion in order to promote the idea that people should be free to practice it.