A nation of Christians and Muslims
The Inaugural Speech was thankfully sober and unsoaring, but it contained one phrase that disturbs.
That phrase is this:
“The United States is a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.”
The traditional formulation has always paired “Christians” with “Jews” — “Christians and Jews.” Such a blatant change, then, in that traditional formulation is sure to attract notice. It invites inspection. It disturbs. The order in which these adherents of different faiths are named, and which is paired with the obviously, and rightly, dominant “Christians” (this country was both founded on Christian or, to include the Old Testament, Judeo-Christian principles, and owes its development right up to the present day to those same ideas, enshrined in our political and legal institutions which are, after all, the best thing America has to offer) both count.
Now it may be that the written version of his speech reveals commas unrevealed by the text when spoken: a comma after “Christians,” for example, which would yield “nation of Christians, and Muslims,” and then, presumably, another after “Jews,” so that the same list, each set of believers set off by commas, would continue: “Jews, and Hindus, and unbelievers.” But on what basis did Obama make the decision to move up “Muslims” in the ranking, right after, or even possibly paired with, Christians, leaving the Jews demoted, in a sense? It cannot be on the basis of population, for there are twice as many Jews in the United States as there are Muslims (and of the approximately 3 million Muslims, 2 million are unorthodox Black Muslims). And if he did not wish, after the word “Christians,” to give any pride of place, why not mix it up still more: “Christians, and Buddhists, and Jews, and Hindus, and people of other faiths, and people of no faith at all, nonbelievers of every level of doubt”? Was this one more attempt to impress on the public the notion that we must appease Muslims, we must make of them something they are not in this country, in order to hold onto their loyalty that otherwise is in danger of being lost? What exactly is the justification for putting “Muslims” right after, or even paired with, “Christians”?
Let’s assume there is meant to be a comma or two (not since Gammer Gurton’s Needle has the presence, or absence, or placement of a comma had such consequence), so that the phrase reads: “The United States is a nation of Christians, and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.” This still disturbs, for here still Muslims have been given, after Christians, a pride of place that neither their numbers, nor their beliefs entitles them to. (For their beliefs, after all, include the hostility toward all non-Muslims — Christians, and Jews, and Hindus and non-believers — that is central, not tangential, to Islam.) Perhaps Obama thought he should do this as rhetorical reaching-out to Muslims. We’ve seen how much all the reaching out has gotten us — the fabulous sums expended, the overlooking or minimizing or finding of preposterous ways to explain away the hideous attitudes and teachings discovered in khutbas, in sermons, in Muslim websites, in the broadcasts on Muslim television.
Obama might better have said: “The United States is a nation of many faiths — Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, Muslims and Mandeans (the latter being not only an example of a tiny group, one that happens to be persecuted by Muslims with even more ferocity than are Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Christians under Muslim rule), and many other faiths — and of non-believers too.”
And there is something else that in this sober speech — one that dwells in its own way on American political uniqueness — that Barack Obama needed to do, if he insisted on listing those faiths (with unfaith bringing up the rear, as an ideological caboose). He needed further to add what it was, despite those adherents of different faiths, that all should equally be required to offer this country in return for the great privilege of enjoying the privilege of citizenship.
Here’s how he might have put it:
“But whatever their faith, those who live in this country naturally have a duty to offer their unswerving and undiluted loyalty to the political and legal principles of this country, enshrined in the Constitution. No one should seek to replace the Constitution and the liberties it protects with any alternative, narrowly sectarian version, prompted by any faith, or unfaith.”
So now that passage would read:
“The United States is a nation of Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims, agnostics and atheists, and all are welcome to enjoy the liberties protected by the Constitution. But whatever their faith, all those who live in this country naturally have a duty to offer their unswerving and undiluted loyalty to the political and legal principles of this country, principles enshrined in the Constitution, and no one should seek to replace that Constitution and the liberties it protects with any narrowly sectarian version of a legal system, prompted by any faith, or unfaith.”
This unremarkable but stern message would have been duly noted by all, and especially by those who need to have it made clear that welcome extends to all those, but only to those, capable of accepting the Constitution, in permanence, as the law of this land. It is the minimum that can be asked, and Barack Obama should have, publicly, asked it.
Three years ago, Barack Obama gave a speech to a “liberal Christian group” called “Call to Renewal.” Here is some of what he said then:
–¦the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
“And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?” Obama asked. “Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount — a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.”
Let’s take that second paragraph first. One of the things that apologists for Islam, when passages from the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira are adduced, like to do in defense is to say such things as “Oh, you should read what is in the Jewish texts.” Then they always trot out some violent passage about the ancient Israelites and the Canaanites, something in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. But every sensible person knows that those passages have not been relevant to either Judaism, or to Christianity, for at least two thousand years, while the passages — see the Calcutta Qur’an Petition for a summary — in the Qur’an, which is considered by Muslims to be the literal Word of God and hence immutable, are vital and remain controlling. They are immediately, vividly relevant, to the conduct of Muslims today, wherever Muslims take their Islam to heart. And so too are the records of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad, the Model of Conduct (uswa hasana), and the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil) which are to be found in the stories known as the Hadith. And there are the details of Muhammad’s life, recorded in the Sira, which supplement the Hadith.
But let’s go back and look at the first paragraph in this address, in which he insisted that “whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” What shall we make of this confusion of the fact that among us live people with creeds alien to the Judeo-Christian creed that animated the founders, the builders, the inhabitants of this nation, exclusively right up until very late into the twentieth century, and with one of those creeds, if understood rightly, turning out to be not only alien but actively hostile to the legal and political institutions of this country? For the Constitution of the United States flatly contradicts, in spirit and letter, the Shari”a, or Holy Law of Islam, the imposition of which is a goal of those Muslims who take their Islam most to heart.
As a nonbeliever, I am happy to withdraw any formal claim to the United States being a “nation of nonbelievers” if I must do so in order to prevent, in the slightest way, recognition being given to this nation being “also…a Muslim nation.” And I suspect that many Jews, many Buddhists, many Hindus, would be happy to do the same.
In any case, as a matter of history — and what is a nation if not that nation’s history? — the United States was founded by, settled by, developed by, Christians or those who thought of themselves, in some cases, as embodiments of the Hebrews, building Zion on a Hill in, of all places, the Massachusetts Bay Colony (for more on this, read Oscar Handlin). It is truthful to call this nation “Judeo-Christian” in its origins and its mental makeup; it is untruthful to claim otherwise.
It is silly simply to do a head-count, notice that there are people in this country who are this, or who are that, and then claim that that changes the very nature of that history, its political and legal institutions, its culture, its literature, its language, its ways of thought, even its sense of humor (yes, Borscht Belt here we happily come). When I study the history of the United States, right up to the present day, I find nothing about it, not about its politics, not about its legal system, not about its literature or language or cultural influences, not about its music, not about its art, not about its sense of humor, not about its anything, a single solitary thing that would make anyone in his right mind call this country “also a Muslim nation.” Yes, Muslims live here, as they have managed now to settle deep behind what they are taught to regard as enemy lines, the lines of Dar al-Harb. Not all believe it, but many do, and we have no way of knowing who does, and who doesn’t, or who doesn’t now, but will in the future.
And the same can be said for Great Britain, for France, for Italy, and most of Europe, with a few outliers — Sicily, Spain, Sardinia — once upon a time enduring the wonders of Islamic rule, but throwing it off. Had they not thrown it off, then they would have resembled now not parts of advanced, tolerant, intelligent Europe, but at best — Tunisia, or Morocco. What a fate they avoided.
And what a fate we must avoid, and take issue with the rhetorical seepage that is permitting Muslims to claim, to be allowed to claim, some kind of historic or cultural or other connection to this land, when everything that makes America America, or the West the West, is in direct opposition to, and is permanently threatened by, the texts, the tenets, the attitudes, of Islam.