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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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February 8, 2015

Obama's provocative remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

President Obama personally added a reference to the Crusades in his speech this week at the National Prayer Breakfast hoping to add context and nuance to his condemnation of Islamic terrorists by noting that people also committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ, the New York Times quoted presidential aides as saying on Friday.

The White House has defended President Obama's remarks after he was widely lambasted by conservatives for bringing up acts done in Christianity's name amid a discussion of modern-day terrorist threats, The Hill reported.

Americans should hold themselves "up to our own values and our own standards," deputy press secretary Eric Schultz was quoted as saying aboard the president's flight to Indianapolis, where Obama was speaking at a community college, according to the pool report. Obama believes that "when we fall short of that, we need to be honest with ourselves," Schultz said, noting Obama's "belief in American exceptionalism." “The president believes that America is the greatest country on earth, not only because of our military or economic prowess or because we serve in a unique leadership role amongst the international community,” Schultz added.

Speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire the President said: “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.” He went on to say: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

The Republican response to President Obama's remarks was predictable:

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also criticized the speech, saying in a statement, "While Christians of today are taught to live their lives as the reflection of Christ's love, the radicals of ISIS use their holy texts as a rationale for violence." "To insinuate modern Christians — the same Christian faith that led the abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and global charitable efforts fighting disease and poverty — cannot stand up against the scourge we see in the Middle East is wrong," Santorum added.

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.) called the remarks "the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime," the former Republican National Committee chairman added that Obama "has offended every believing Christian in the United States."

The Media coverage of his speech was also hostile

Writing under the headline, "Critics pounce after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast," Juliet Eilperin wrote in Washington Post: As a new president, he dismissed the idea of American exceptionalism, noting that Greeks think their country is special, too. He labeled the Bush-era interrogation practices, euphemistically called “harsh” for years, as torture. America, he has suggested, has much to answer given its history in Latin America and the Middle East.

"Mr. President, the Crusades were 800 years ago and the Inquisition 500 years ago. What's happening right now is not Christians on the march, it is radical Islam," Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News, calling the remarks "astonishing."

Obama’s comparison of Crusades to Islamist terror acts misses mark was the title of the Washington Times story by Wesley Pruden.  He writes: But given the widespread and well-founded suspicion that Mr. Obama is soft on those who, as he says, distort Islam to justify jihad, why did he choose a Christian prayer breakfast to equate the faith of most of his constituents to the barbarism of the cult whose proper name he cannot bring himself to say?

Obama defends Islam, attacks Christianity at prayer breakfast was the title of Frontpage story by Daniel Greenfield who writes: When it comes to Islam, Obama is like the weather in Seattle. There are no surprises. If there’s a national prayer breakfast, then he’s going to slam Christianity and defend Islam. While Obama defends Islam, he attacks Christianity. He has to do this because it’s the only way to uphold the myth that Islam is peaceful. He can’t defend Islam. He can just deny, redirect and attack another religion.  

Tea Party Network News  headline was: Obama throws Christ and Christians under the bus to prop up Islam at nat’l prayer breakfast.   Mathew Burke of the TPNN wrote: At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Obama, who is supposedly a Christian even though his pastor of over 20 years isn’t quite sure, attacked Christ and Christianity in a thinly veiled attempt to prop us the religion of his youth, Islam. Don’t criticize Islam, Obama seems to be saying at the National Prayer Breakfast, because Christianity, after all, is just as bad — or something, while of course, using the opportunity to pull the race card as well, killing two birds with one stone. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ,” Obama outrageously claimed. 

The Daily Caller headline was: Obama uses prayer breakfast to call for curbs on Islam criticism. Its White House Correspondent, Neil Munro wrote: President Obama used a speech at the annual prayer breakfast Thursday to portray Americans’ routine criticism of Islam as “insults” and “attacks,” and to repeatedly suggest that Americans should curb their criticism of Islamic ideas.

Obama's Comparison of Christianity to radical Islam defies logic was the headline of Chicago Sun Times where Jonah Goldberg wrote: ....the Inquisition and the Crusades aren’t the indictments Obama thinks they are. For starters, the Crusades — despite their terrible organized cruelties — were a defensive war. To support his point he quotes an agenda-driven historian of Islam, Bernard Lewis: “The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad — a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war.”

Not surprisingly, James Taranto writing in the Wall Street Journal quoted Bernard Lewis’s 2007 American Enterprise Institute speech in which he argued that the Crusades were not an unwarranted act of aggression against the Muslim world. " But let us have a little sense of proportion. We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly." Headline of the WSJ was, Obama’s Crusades: Get off your high horse. The chickens are coming home to roost.

Extreme Right Wing  Radio talk host, Rush Limbaugh wrote on his website:  Why Our president chose to insult Christianity and excuse militant Islam at the national prayer breakfast? The transcript of his talk show on the subject quoted him as saying: At the National Prayer Breakfast today, President Obama has to go back 1,000 years, 10 centuries, in order to find any examples that might serve to blunt the impact of militant Islam today. 

Ironically, when  President Georg Bush used the same phrase (the Crusade),  he was forced to apologize. Five days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks Bush vowed to "rid the world of evil-doers," then cautioned: "This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while." Two days later, fearing a negative reaction from the Muslim World, the White House said Bush regretted use of the term. The Wall Street Journal described it an indelicate gaffe.

Obama’s remarks on religious intolerance in India provoke outrage

President Obama’s comments that religious conflict has produced “acts of intolerance” in India that would have shocked Gandhiji, provoked a stream of outrage in India.

“Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity,” Obama said, “but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs.”

The “acts of intolerance”  would have “shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation,” Obama said, employing the honorific used in India for the revered freedom fighter.

India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley  said that India has "a huge cultural history of tolerance; any aberrations do not alter that history."

Obama had also referred to the country’s history of religious conflict during his final speech  in New Delhi on January 27. Addressing young people at Siri Fort Stadium Obama warned that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith -- so long as it's not splintered along any lines -- and is unified as one nation.” The speech had invoked strong reactions in India.

The Congress party called it an indictment of the ruling National Democratic Alliance ’s record on religious freedoms, in the wake of reports of forced conversions of Muslims to Hinduism by groups allied to the Bhartia Janta Party (BJP).

BJP President Amit Shah told The Hindu newspaper the party “agreed” with Mr. Obama on the importance of communal harmony while Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he “endorsed” Mr. Obama’s comments, but added that it was “really unfortunate” he had made the remarks.

After a week of the debate boiling over on the internet and television, the White House clarified that the remarks had been “misconstrued”. “I wouldn’t insinuate that there’s any baggage there at all,” said National Security Council director, in remarks many had thought would put the debate to rest.

The Hindu said it is significant that President Obama had chosen to make the statements twice in a span of ten days.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.