Referencing Crusades, Obama puts Islamic extremism in historical perspective

US president defends his choice not to pose fight against extremism in religious terms.

February 5, 2015 19:30
1 minute read.
Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama takes the stage to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2015. Flanking Obama are Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey (L) and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama has long refused to refer to the scourge of terrorism gripping the Middle East as Islamic extremism, and on Thursday he defended that position with a bit of history.

The challenges facing Islam today are not unique to the religion, Obama said, but reflective of a “sinful tendency” in all societies to “pervert and distort” faiths.

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“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” Obama said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. “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,” he continued.

At home, the president has been challenged by some Republicans for avoiding the term – “failing to admit that we’re in a religious war,” as one presidential hopeful, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), said last month. “It really bothers me,” the senator said in a television interview.

And yet the president’s position is in line with that of his Republican predecessor. While coining phrases Obama rejects in characterizing America’s war on terrorism, George W. Bush never characterized the fight in religious terms and, in fact, campaigned against the notion.

At the breakfast, Obama also defended worldwide condemnation of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, and squared why such denouncements were in line with liberal principles.

“If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults,” he told the group, to applause.

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