A Guilt-Ridden History

There was so much to abhor in President Barack Obama’s oration at last Thursday’s annual prayer breakfast that one hardly knows where to begin. The sermon featured the usual ahistorical recounting of western civilization’s past sins, the usual attempt to mitigate the contemporary sins of western civilization’s enemies, and the usual haughty air of moral superiority as he urged his subjects to be humble, but somehow it was even more infuriating than usual.
The president took the occasion of the prayer breakfast to tell his audience that “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” and reeled off the usually litany of the Crusades and the Inquisition and slavery and Jim Crow. He seemed to think this a highly original insight into history, although it will come as no surprise to any American who has been subjected to a public education or Hollywood movies over the past many decades, and he made it all sound quite simple and damning.
There was no mention that the Crusades were a defensive war launched nearly 500 years after Islamic imperialism has begun a war of conquest that stretched from the formerly Christian Middle East far into Europe, that it happened in an era of western civilization known as the “Dark Ages” and during an era of Islamic culture known as the “Golden Age” and that the Muslims mostly got the better of it, that atrocities were common to both sides of the conflict, and that western civilization likely would not exist if not for the effort. Perhaps continued existence of western civilization is the president’s main gripe with the Crusades, and although he did not quite go so far as to say that in his address one could detect a profound sense of disappointment. Western civilization is so sexist and racist and homophobic and otherwise falls short of the president’s high moral standards, after all, so he might naturally yearn for the more open-minded attitudes on these matters that he seems to believe prevail in most of the Islamic world.
There was much brutality during the various Inquisitions, especially in the most notorious Spanish one, and at times it even exceeded the harshness of dhimmitude that was imposed on non-Muslims in the Islamic world, even if it has been exaggerated by the popular imagination, so the president can’t help but savor that. We’re still glad that the reconquista of the Iberian peninsula happened, and that it was a re-Christianized Spain that sent Christopher Columbus off to the new world and made the United States of America happened, and we can’t help wondering if the president of those United States of America is as grateful. Slavery will forever be a stain on American history, but that evil institution existed in every corner of the world from the dawn of time until western civilization largely eradicated it on Christian principles, although it remains a feature of life in Nigeria and other portions of the world where a more strident form of Islam holds sway, so it seems rather unfair to single out western civilization for the unique culpability of this sin of humanity. There were Americans who justified Jim Crow according to some strange interpretation of the Bible, and those who are still alive deserve some presidential chiding, but we wonder why the first black president couldn’t acknowledge that the civil rights movement that made his presidency possible was also rooted in the Christian faith.
Our best guess is that the president wants to tamp down any public enthusiasm for a robust resistance to the terrible deeds currently being being committed in the name of Islam. An inconveniently named outfit calling itself The Islamic State has lately been taking over large parts of what were once Syria and Iraq, and by such brutal means as mass executions, beheadings, crucifixions, and even dousing captives with gasoline and burning them alive inside steel cages, so it takes some extraordinary rhetorical exertions to convince a modern western world presently pre-occupied with same-sex marriage and trans-gender rights that it has no moral standing to object to such barbaric behavior. We are assured that the Islamic State is not at all Islamic because Islam is good and therefore anything bad can not be true Islam, a tautology that does not seem to exempt Christianity from the crimes of the Spanish Inquisition, but rather than hectoring an American public that does not by large commit atrocities in the name of Islam it should be making its case to the people who are mass executing, beheading, crucifying, and dousing captives in gasoline and setting them afire in the of the faith. They seem to have settled on a theological tautology that because Islam is good and they Islamic what they’re doing can’t be bad, and it will likely take more than a groveling apology for 500-year-old sins by people to whom we now seem to disavow any cultural connection to persuade them to act otherwise.
Our reading of history suggests it will eventually require overwhelming military force backed by the fierce will of a self-confident civilization, but the president appears confident that his ability to placate even the most implacable foe will suffice. We are advised not to “get on our high horse” and assert the superiority of our modern civilization to the ancient barbarism of the Islamic State, and this from a president who routinely bestrides a higher horse than any American politician of our recollection, and who has never hesitated to attribute the most evil intentions to his domestic political opponents, so we are not persuaded that a more supine position will be effective.
A majority of the Muslim has no appetite for the brutal conquests of the Islamic State, and some of them are bravely fighting it right now, but vast majorities can be disastrously ineffectual when pitted against a fervent minority more thoroughly convinced it is in the right. The United States and the rest of the world should be offering all possible help to the fight against the Islamic state, and surrendering its moral authority to do so can only lead to disaster.

— Bud Norman