By now, the Internet has thoroughly handled our fair President’s National Prayer Breakfast speech, which compared the rise of radical Islam to the Crusades undertaken to recapture the Holy Land, in an argument that exhibits the type of intellectual gravitas normally seen in an inspirational email signature quote. Punch-drunk on his own moral superiority, the President lectured a room full of people who had since adeptly handled the crisis of violent Medieval Christians and, unlike their ISIS “bretheren” are not still wandering about in the desert setting fire to people in cages, on how their respective religions’ darkest times, found mostly in history books the President clearly does not read, are just as deplorable. Unless, perhaps, that burning caged man has a carbon footprint.
But I digress. The point is, the Internet (both sides of the political aisle) pushed back on Obama’s off-the-cuff remarks rather well. So well, in fact, that a number of Presidential apologists spent their free time this weekend rewriting the National Prayer Breakfast remarks so that they didn’t sound as stupid. They ultimately failed, but the attempts were at least admirable.
“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,” Obama said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Obama’s point, as I understand it, is that the prevalence of Islamic extremism does not reflect a tendency of violence inherent in the Muslim religion, but rather specific historical, economic, and social conditions in the Muslim world today. This argument places Obama in strong opposition to elements of the left, which often embraces a form of relativism that refuses to acknowledge the disproportionately violent quality of Muslim extremism today. Obama’s case actually reflects a longer argument made recently by Michael Walzer in Dissent, which is entirely brilliant…
But rebuking the Inquisition and, especially, the Crusades places Obama in opposition to a powerful strain of right-wing American Christian chauvinism. It is commonplace for conservatives who invoke the Crusades (which, to be sure, sits well down the list of their preferred topics) to defend them. (See, for instance, this classic National Review pro-Crusades column, of which numerous similar examples can be found.) And so, by this line of thinking, even to compare radical Islam to the murderous Christian extremists of 800 years ago unduly insults the Christian faith.
Regardless of how brilliant Dissent was to Jonathan Chait, the mere fact that two people happen to have the same poor grasp of history does not make either of those people right. Two ostensibly “brilliant” people waxing poetic on a faulty premise are still two wrong people. They just believe they smell better than the other people who are also wrong and can’t express themselves with such eloquence. In this case, both Walzer and Obama (and, for that matter, Chait) are just warming over an argument that is made on Reddit’s atheist message board once per week, and used mostly to convince members of Reddit’s atheist message board that they, themselves, are smarter than people who are not also members of Reddit’s atheist message board.
But, of course, the point here isn’t that Barack Obama is right or wrong, it’s just that you troglodytes taking issue with the President’s interpretation of historical events are too stupid to understand his complex manner of thinking on this issue; he was clearly hitting at a Very Important Point that you Very Dumb People missed while focused on the mere details. Try as you might to point to a Wikipedia page that substantiates your claim that, say, the Crusades were a series of mostly defensive wars, your intellectual betters simply cannot hear you over the sound of their own awesomeness.
I think this rewrite of the Prayer Breakfast Speech is thoroughly dead on arrival. Which is sad because I’m sure Jonathan Chait missed brunch for it.