Cynthia M. Allen
Feb 16, 2015
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,” Friedman wrote shortly after the Charlie
Hebdo attack in Paris.
It’s true that in order to effectively combat the
terrorist threat, the United States 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
But the constant, blanket defense of Islam — whether
for political expediency or political correctness — also requires the United
States to ignore some harsh realities of the Muslim world that in other
circumstances we would openly condemn as offensive, at the very least, or
“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
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
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
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 columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.