Grasping the magnitude of the moral abomination contained in the remarks made by President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast is exceptionally important. His comments were shallow, preposterous, out of place, utterly wrong, immoral and hypocrite. “People committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ” is the incriminated sentence. It is shallow to say so, because people did commit terrible deeds in the name of Christ, but the fact is: these people were not Christians. It’s preposterous because, if anything, Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages and, as a matter of fact, they are still being persecuted. Calvary apart, many of the apostles perished as martyrs, a huge number of Christians have been fed to the lions to amuse the Romans and were persecuted until the advent of Constantine. But Christians were also persecuted outside of the Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages. They were considered inferiors (dhimmi) under the Arab Islamic Caliphate; sometimes they were killed and sometimes deported. The Roman Church itself slaughtered a considerable amount of so called “heretics” in the name of justice. Arnaldo Da Brescia was hanged by Pope Adrian IV in 1155 because he had denounced the misdeeds of the papacy. A crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III against the Albigensians in 1209, and then it was the turn of the Wycliffites, the Hussites and the Waldenses. The Catholics went to war against reformed Christians as well. Lutherans were executed by Henry VIII and his daughter (Bloody Mary) in England, not to mention the persecution of Christians in China, Japan and India, the Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution, the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides during the Ottoman Empire, the Persecution of Christians in Warsaw Pact countries, the one which took place in Mexico during the 20th century, the one in Nazi Germany and finally the ongoing persecution to which Christians are subjected right now in the Muslim World.
Obama’s remarks were out of place because one cannot justify a wicked act of violence by stating that others, equally wicked acts of violence have been committed in the past by certain kinds of people: it’s non-sense, and it completely misses the point.
Moreover, Obama’s remarks were wrong because they were anti-historical: the Crusades were in fact an answer to Muslim conquers, not an imperialistic endeavor. Their goal was the liberation of the Holy Land, not the conquest of the Fertile Crescent. They were also immoral, because with the same rationale that the President used, anybody could perpetrate a heinous crime and later on justify themselves by saying that they did it in the name of Obama, even though Obama never told them to kill anybody. Extremely influential public figures have a responsibility when it comes to speaking publicly, precisely because they can influence a large number of individuals. Therefore they are expected to exercise moral clarity, not moral relativism.
To be even more precise on this point, it was the Roman Church, together with its allies, who went to war against the Muslims in order to recapture the Holy Land. The First Crusade was propitiated by Pope Urban II in 1095. He answered to a plea which came from the Byzantine Basileum Alexios I Komnenos, whom in turn was trying to repel the attacks of the Seljuq Turks. After that, several different Crusades have been launched, all of which have basically failed. Some historians argue that the Crusades were all about borders and political supremacy, but that is historical revisionism. The Crusades might have started in the name of Christ, but they were not a Christian endeavor.
The problem is that not even conservative political commentators have been clear on this point. For example, Charles Krauthammer claimed that “The present issue is Muslim radicalism and how to attack it”, not the Crusades. Succinct, but not exhaustive. Michelle Malkin’s tweet was ironic, but that’s all: “ISIS chops off heads, incinerates hostages, kills gays, enslaves girls. Obama: Blame the Crusades”. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, instead said: “When Christians act violently they are acting in opposition to the teachings of their founder, Jesus Christ”. Close, but no cigar. Michael Leeden, on his part, insisted on multiculturalism and he was certainly onto something.
The point is: a Christian, by definition, is a follower of Christ. This in turns means somebody who does what Christ has told him to do. And Jesus said, precisely: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew, 5:40) It follows logically that whosoever responds with violence to an attack cannot be considered a Christian. And also that whosoever makes war in the name of Christ is not to be taken seriously because, given this premise, it is hard to imagine that Christ would approve.
Obama’s remarks were also hypocrite because it is hard to figure out why the President would stubbornly refuse to identify terrorism with Islam and instead juxtapose the Crusades with Christianity with so much ease. After what happened to the Jordanian pilot, anything else than a strong condemnation of the barbaric violence with which the ISIS treats its enemies is to be considered a justification of terrorism. One cannot justify an act of violence by claiming that others have been violent in the past, or that violence has existed elsewhere. But unfortunately, instead of condemning terrorism, Obama felt the urge to explain that this kind of religious violence is “not unique to one group or one religion”. Actually it is, for what Muslim extremists are doing when they execute prisoners is following the teachings of the Prophet, who advised his supporters to kill “the infidels” time and time again. It isn’t Jesus’ fault if several different verses in the Quran urge the Muslims to engage in offensive warfare against the disbelievers.
However, let’s admit for a second that it was the Christians who waged war against the Muslims, not the Roman Church. Even so, in the wake of what just happened to Muath al-Kasaesbeh, to claim that somebody else did something equally as terrible in the past, not only does not make sense, but it’s also childish and immature. The crimes that these people did in the past should remain in the past and not be used to justify nowadays’ violence. Doing otherwise is missing the point. It’s a classic case of finger pointing to the moon. The news is, Mr. President: somebody has been burned alive in a cage by ISIS terrorists. Dot. There is no going around it.
The problem now being the threat that radical Islam represents for the international community, not the moral disquisition on the origins of violence itself. Obama’s rhetoric is toxic, his remarks are a verbal Kalashnikov and pulling this trigger is tantamount to paving the way for the 9/11s and the Charlie Hebdo massacres of the future. There is no such thing as trying to understand terrorism, it’s either you are against it, or you are in favor of it. There is no lukewarm position to be adopted on terrorism. Public figures in the Western world and beyond are expected to take a clear moral stance against it. Or, if they really want to do something different than that, they could always shut up.