President Barack Obama’s scolding of Western civilization at the National Prayer Breakfast (“Lest we get on our high horse … “) may go down in history as the emblematic moment of his presidency. It was atrociously ill timed and characteristically sophomoric.
My colleague Jay Nordlinger observed that Obama sounded just like the students in the 1980s who, when presented with evidence of the Soviet gulag, would respond with the tu quoque rejoinder: “Well, what about racism?”
During the Cold War, we called this the “moral equivalence” fallacy, because however grave our flaws were (and some were serious), they didn’t exist on the same plane as those of the Soviet Union or China or Cambodia or North Korea or the other communist nations that amassed a body count of more than 90 million souls in their seven decades of tyranny. There were other reasons the moral equivalence argument was fallacious (we had independent courts, a free press and other mechanisms for fighting injustice; they had none of those), but that didn’t prevent it from issuing from the mouths of nominally educated people until the Berlin Wall was hacked to pieces. And even after.
Yet what we have in the Obama administration isn’t moral equivalence — it seems to border on self-hatred. Jihadist barbarians are burning captives in cages, beheading Christians, gunning down French cartoonists, blowing up Buddhist statues, attacking Hindu businessmen in Mumbai, targeting Jews for execution, starving Yazidis and taking 8-year-old girls into sex slavery, yet Obama cannot express simple outrage and determination to stop them.
Apparently, that’s not the way his mind works. He seems to say to himself, “I don’t want my people to feel superior to the ‘other.’ After all, which civilization is the guiltiest on planet Earth? Ours! If the Muslims are committing some atrocities these days, it’s only because we drove them to it by the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and colonialism and supporting dictatorships and creating the State of Israel.”
That is exactly the kind of reductive, ahistorical, shallow, tendentious drivel a student could easily imbibe at Columbia or Harvard unless he tried hard to avoid it. Obama sought it out, as he confirms in his (first) autobiography.
Though he has come to power in an era when everyone except the village idiot understands that radical Islam is a worldwide menace claiming (mostly Muslim) victims on every continent, and that it has gained serious footholds even in formerly moderate nations like Turkey, this president and his party are so solipsistic that they cannot even see the Islamic world in its own terms. He and they can see it only as a victim of the West.
In the universities, they teach that victim classes — blacks, women, you know the list — are incapable of certain sins. Blacks, for example, are held to be incapable of racism because racism is defined as holding offensive racial opinions and wielding power. Because blacks supposedly lack power, they cannot be racists.
Obama appears to be judging the entire Islamic world that way. Because it has been a victim (it hasn’t, but leave that to one side), it cannot be giving rise to savage offshoots. Any crimes committed in the name of Islam are adventitious. Accordingly, Maj. Nidal Hasan’s jihadi attack at Fort Hood was labeled “workplace violence.” Faisal Shahzad’s unsuccessful attempt to blow up Times Square was called a “lone wolf” attack.
When ISIS began its trail of torment, Obama denied that the organization was truly Islamic. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to identify Islamic extremism as a motive for worldwide terrorists. After ISIS cut off the head of American Steven Sotloff, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murders.”
With each passing day, this administration’s refusal to speak plainly about radical Islamic terrorists becomes more and more surreal. King Abdullah of Jordan says it. President Sisi of Egypt says it. European leaders say it. The United Arab Emirates has published a list of 80 terrorist groups around the world — all of them Muslim.
This week, the White House is hosting an international conference on “countering violent extremism.” The administration promises that the conference will “work to address the underlying conditions that can help foster violent extremism such as poverty, inequality and repression. This means supporting alternatives to extremist messaging and greater economic opportunities for women and disaffected youth.” What “extremist messaging” would that be? The Christian Science Monitor?
This is gibberish. The administration uses language to impede thought rather than to elucidate it — which suits the jihadis very well.
— Mona Charen is a columnist with National Review magazine. Click here to contact her, follow her on Twitter: @mcharen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.