Six days after the World Trade Center Towers crumbled onto the streets of Manhattan, President George W. Bush offered infrequently cited but significant remarks at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C.
Seeking to pre-empt a possible backlash against American Muslims and to dispel fear and confusion among the populace, Bush delivered a powerful message: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”
Those words could have just as easily come from his successor, President Barack Obama, who has become a frequent defender of Islam, even as Muslim extremist organizations have proliferated and accelerated their terrorist activities around the world.
Obama, like Bush before him, has a difficult job. Waging a war against violent Islamic extremism and condemning the ideology that inspires its perpetrators, without impugning the faith they share with millions of other innocent practitioners, requires a delicate balance.
Unfortunately, it’s a balance Obama has yet to strike. For months, he and members of his administration have made pretzels of themselves trying to avoid any association between Islam and the violent acts of groups that proudly bear titles like the Islamic State.
Even frequent Obama administration defenders like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman find such tortured language exasperating.
“I am all for restraint on the issue, and would never hold every Muslim accountable for the acts of a few. But it is not good for us or the Muslim world to pretend that this spreading jihadist violence isn’t coming out of their faith community,” he wrote shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
It’s true that in order to effectively combat the terrorist threat the U.S. needs Muslim nations as allies, and alienating their religious sensibilities could threaten potential alliances. (Still, it’s worth noting that even Egypt’s Muslim president has been more bold and blunt about the dangers of Islamic extremism than Obama has dared to be.)
It’s also true that pluralism is a distinctly American value and that respect for divergent faith practices is fundamental to who we are.
But the constant, blanket defense of Islam — whether for political expediency or political correctness — also requires the U.S. to ignore some harsh realities of the Muslim world that in other circumstances we would openly condemn as offensive, at the very least, or completely horrific.
“Sadly, large pluralities of Muslims in countries allied with the U.S. in the war on terror disavow the tactics of terrorism but endorse the aims of radical Islam,” laments Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake.
The Pew Research Center has confirmed such sentiments in its polling of Muslims around the world.
For example, the belief that Sharia should be the country’s official legal code and therefore extend to non-Muslims is widespread in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, where 74 percent say it should apply to the entire population. Fifty-eight percent in Jordan hold this view.
When it comes to women, a majority of Muslim Iraqis said they supported “honor killings” of women who engage in premarital sex or adultery.
While a majority of Muslims worldwide reject religious extremism, substantial minorities in countries like Afghanistan (39 percent) and Egypt (29 percent) think violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified.
And lest we forget, in Saudi Arabia blogger Raif Badawi was recently sentenced to public flogging — 50 times each week for 20 weeks — for insulting Islam.
None of these perspectives and practices comport with the views of Western society. But in failing to identify Islamic extremism as our enemy, we have chosen to uphold those perspectives and practices by default.
Even as we defend Islam, for both good and misplaced reasons, it’s important that we do so with the full recognition of the values we are supporting.
Cynthia M. Allen is a Star-Telegram editorial writer/columnist. 817-390-7166.