Speaking to a French reporter while on his Middle East trip, President Obama said that the United States would be “one of the largest Muslim countries,” if its Muslim population was the measure. Jake Tapper fact checked that claim and reports that the White House used the CIA World Fact Book as a source for Obama’s erroneous statistic that there are seven million Muslims in the U.S. The actual size of the Muslim population in America, according to the CIA, is 0.6% of the total, or just under 2 million.
Tapper points out that the president did not say, and does not believe, that the United States is a Muslim nation, as some have lamented. As evidence for this, he recalls Obama’s speech of April 6, in Turkey, in which the president said that America, “does not consider itself a Christian nation, a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation.” While Tapper may be correct on the literal meaning of the president’s words, the rationale behind them is utter nonsense.
The idea that America would be one of the largest Muslim nations is silly not just because the president’s figures were grossly over-inflated. It is silly because population size is not what makes a nation inherently Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. Culture does.
Take India as an example. India has the second largest population in the world at just under 1.2 billion people. Of them, the CIA says that 13.5% are Muslim. That gives India a Muslim population of over 162 million. Compare that to the largest Muslim nation of Indonesia, which has 200 million. Yet no one would think to claim that India is a Muslim nation, or that it is even, “one of the largest Muslim countries,” based on that number alone. India’s culture is as unique as it is ancient. In modern times, India’s culture and society may have been shaped by Muslims, but they are undoubtedly rooted in a history that long predates the introduction of Islam.
Similarly, America has a history rooted in Western European civilization, which is undeniably Christian. The Founders were Christian men who, guided by their Christian faith, stitched together a nation. Although they had the restraint to forbid the government from sponsoring a particular religion, to say that the United States is not a Christian nation is to deny both its history and the present reality. Indeed, with roughly one tenth of the worldwide Christian population, by the president’s own logic the United States would be one of the world’s biggest Christian nations, if not the biggest.
One aspect of the United States’ Christian culture is its acceptance of other religions. This is simply not the case in many Muslim nations, where Christians and Jews are shunned, discriminated against, and even driven out. A powerful example is the systematic marginalization of the minority Coptic Christian community in the president’s host nation, Egypt.
It is understandable that President Obama wants better relations with the Muslim world. It has been, after all, the source of many of America’s problems for the past 30 years. But to deny the very nature of the county in that effort is not outreach, it is obsequiousness. America’s relationship to Muslims should be predicated on mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance of one another. That means Muslims must understand and accept that America is at its root a Christian nation, just as they must realize that America’s actions in the world are not guided by that fact. The president does his cause no favors by pretending otherwise.