What’s your reaction to President Obama’s recent statements to the Muslim world that “the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam” and that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation”?
From my point of view as an evangelical-liberal Christian, President Obama’s handling of the religion factor in domestic and foreign affairs has been flawless.
A few comments on the two statements.
“The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”
The U.S. is a nation, Islam is a religion. The statement is non-symmetrical.
The legal structure of the U.S. and the political mentality of our people separates the structures of government (“state”) and structures of religion (“church”). To war against any particular religion is, for us, inconceivable. Even if a “neo-con” administration were to trick us into such a war, it would have insufficient public support, and public rage would push for the President’s impeachment.
The U.S. is a political entity, Islam is a movement with no controlling center. (The Arab League is only an ethnic group within Islam.) Again, non-symmetricality.
Even if at some time the U.S. were at war with a Muslim nation or even a group of Muslim nations, we would not be “at war with Islam”: Obama is word-precise.
Lacking the experience and even the concept of the separation of church and state, most Muslims consider the U.S. a Christian nation on the model of Muslim nations. When we (foolishly) took over Iraq, it was, for most Muslims everywhere, a Christian nation on a “crusade” against a Muslim nation.
As a constitutional lawyer in the Anglo-American tradition, Obama knows that the U.S. is and always will be at law-war against sharia, Islamic law, which forbids freedoms assumed in the English-speaking world. The government of Pakistan has just yielded to Islamist pressure that a section of that country come under sharia, replacing Pakistani law. Muslim radicals insist that “dar es salam” (Muslim territorial dominance) is not satisfied until sharia completes the take-over. Until that time, a territory mainly inhabited by Muslims is still war territory (“dar es harb”), along with all the rest of the world.
“We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.”
This reinforces the critical difference between America (a mainly Christian people with a secular government) and Muslim nations (with their various mixes, but never a distinct separation, of religion and politics).
Correctly, the (1797) Treaty of Tripoli says (in the English version, not in the Arabic versions) that the U.S. government was not “founded” on the Christian religion. Again, our trying to communicate to a Muslim nation (here, Lybia) our separation of church and state. We needed that Muslim government to cooperate with us in stopping the Muslim pirates’ depredations on our shipping.
Correctly, the U.S. has a record of supporting Muslims against Christians where the issue is justice. Most recently, providing diplomatic and military backing for Bosnia against Serbia.
As the only U.S. President ever to have lived in a Muslim nation and to have a Muslim name, Obama is uniquely situated to get Muslim attention for improved relations between our nation (and people) and Muslim nations (and people). While a committed Christian, he is (wisely) so low-profile about it in his speech that, in a recent survey, only 45% of Americans identified his religion as Christian, and 10% thought him a Muslim.