Guest Post by Dr. Joel Fishman
On Thursday, June 4, the President of the United States, Barack Obama delivered an impressive speech, a message of goodwill to the Arab world. He described how America viewed its place in the world and its relations with Islamic culture and religion. The speech contained both “smooth things” and frank criticism. On the one hand, the expression of flattery was so extravagant as to be untruthful, while, one the other, the expression of criticism was circumspect and unspecific. The president also set out the administration’s position with regard to the Arab conflict with the State of Israel. Some of his remarks showed a refined grasp of the problems of the region, particularly his observation that a number of regimes try to channel hostility to an outside enemy in order to divert the attention of the public from their shortcomings.
Beyond falsely attributing some of the great technological and intellectual advances of human civilization to Islam, the President misrepresented and downgraded the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. He stated that the Jewish claim was based on the tragic suffering of the Holocaust. With this, he omitted the fact that the Jewish People is the “First Nation” – to use the Canadian term – and possesses “aboriginal rights” to this land and that in the 1920s the League of Nations recognized the rights of the Jewish people to what was then Mandatory Palestine and this recognition became part of international law. While the President condemned Holocaust denial, he himself did not mention, and thus implicitly denied the existence of ancient Jewish history in the Land of Israel. By doing so, he became a “Bible denier,” which may be worse than a “Holocaust” denier. The President omitted the fact that the Arab world had largely sympathized and collaborated with Nazi Germany and that the countries of the Arab world murdered, plundered, and expelled their Jewish populations.
The French commentator, Guy Millière, wrote that Obama is either ignorant of history, which is distressing, or he really knows his history and chose to lie, which is even more distressing. Under these circumstances, it is better to show due respect for the President and to assume that he is capable and well-informed. Others have underestimated this man and paid a high price. Once we understand that the president is responsible for his words, we can argue that he willfully misrepresented the historical record. While others have corrected his misstatements, the real question is what do his words really mean? What President Obama’s ultimate political purpose? What is the telos?
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Marc Bloch, the French medievalist, wrote that one may learn much from a counterfeit and that after exposing an historical fraud, the main question one must ask is, what is the motive of the counterfeiter? The most obvious reason for the speech was its declared purpose, to forge better relations with the Muslim world. However, one should not overlook the fact that the speech had a message for a broader audience, to promote “a better dialogue” with Islam. Just before his trip, on June 1, the President explained this in his interview with Laura Haim of France’s Canal Plus, “… I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam.” Traditionally, American presidents have not been the advocates of any religion. They have been advocates of the United States of America. Actually, by making the case for Islam, the President engaged in da’wa, or “soft da’wa.” According to its definition, “the purpose of Da‘wa is to invite people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to understand the worship of God as expressed in the Qur’ān, as well as to inform them about Muhammad.”
Prof. Karina Korostelina of George Mason University who has studied how the teaching of history is used to serve political ends, particularly in Eastern Europe, stated, “People who control the past and define major national problems and grievances are also the ones who define the future, for they define who we are and what we aspire to be.” It may be remembered that in his inaugural address, President Obama spoke of the United States as a nation of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus.” Similarly, in Cairo, he mentioned Christianity as one of several other religions. The President has been consistent in his downgrading of Christianity, but the fact is that Protestant Christianity contributed to the development of democracy in America. Many of its ideas came directly from the Hebrew Bible when during the seventeenth century the literate public could read it in English translation. This basic historical fact is undisputed.
The historian Alexis de Tocqueville is known for his pioneering interpretation which identified importance of religion in American life and as the source of its exceptionalism. Interestingly enough, Tocqueville argued that a Christian cultural environment was able to support a secular society but Islamic culture could not:
Mohammad had not only religious doctrines descend from Heaven and placed in the Koran, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, in contrast, speak only of the general relations of men to God and among themselves. Outside of that they teach nothing and oblige nothing to be believed. That alone, among a thousand other reasons, is enough to show that the first of these two religions cannot dominate for long in enlightened and democratic times, whereas the second is destined to reign in these centuries as in all others. (Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part one, Chapter Five)
What sort of a country would America become if the legacy of Protestant Christianity lost its cultural influence and what would this mean for America’s democracy and secular society? During the same interview with Laura Haim, the president made an incredible claim. Obama said: “if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” It does not take much imagination to surmise that while this is not the case at present, Obama would really like to change the United States into “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world,” and that he wanted to get the public used to the idea. Otherwise, he would have chosen different language. To achieve this objective, it would be necessary first to bring about a “transformation of national consciousness” to create a state of indifference or passivity which would go along with a large-scale Islamic immigration to America, — as was the case in Europe. (This could take place during a second term of office, or sooner if economic conditions improve slightly).
A radical program of changing the population balance in America could easily destabilize middle-class democracy. John Fonte of the Hudson Institute has carefully described the doctrine of social warfare of the Italian Marxist and personal friend of Lenin, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Gramsci argued that it was necessary to destroy the ideological supremacy “of a system of values that supports the class or group interests of the predominant classes or groups.” This is done by “delegitimizing the dominant belief systems,” through a struggle fought out on the level of consciousness, and by empowering society’s marginalized groups. Fonte pointed out that the goal of this struggle is the overthrow of middle-class liberal democracy in America in order to pave the way for sweeping radical change. The Muslims in America are certainly not marginalized, and they have done well. It is obvious, nonetheless, that President Obama, even without a new wave of Muslim immigration, is endeavoring to upgrade the status of this minority, to make it “more equal” than others, and thus to rearrange the basic and traditional structure of American society. This project represents a danger to democracy in America and could ultimately destroy the fabric of its society and public life, quickly and permanently.
Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of a research center in Jerusalem.