In a speech on Wednesday (18 February 2015) to those gathered for “The Summit on Countering Violent Extremism,” President Obama worked hard to separate Islamic Extremists from “true” Islam. He refuses to refer to terrorist carrying out their violent acts in the name of Islam or Allah as “Islamic” (as they refer to themselves) but, as evidenced by the title of the summit, calls them “violent extremists.” The President seemed to bend over backwards to try to prove the peaceful nature and positive contributions of Islam to the World, including the United States, even asserting that “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.”(1) While not going nearly as far, the President’s statement reminds me of what the one-time U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory Council “Senior Fellow,” Mohamed Elibiary, tweeted in October 2013, that the United States is “an Islamic country with an Islamically compliant constitution”(2)…but I digress.
Now, I’m not a (professional) historian but I enjoy history and am bothered when it is not retold accurately. Recently I have read and listened to a lot of books, most on U.S. history. Reflecting on the President’s statement, I’m having trouble recalling any reference to how “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding” as he claims. Certainly later years can show evidence of some contributions of Muslim-Americans, but from its founding?
What I do remember from the early years of the United States is how Muslims, including the Islamic states, sold other Muslims into slavery to the American colonies; raided early American shipping; killed and enslaved Americans then required exorbitant ransoms for their release; demanded payments for safe passage near their coasts, even in international shipping lanes, or would confiscate United States shipping products. All of this before and within the first 50 years of the founding of the U.S.! In fact, the Barbary Wars were in response to Muslim aggression against U.S. sovereignty and its citizens and added the line “…to the shores of Tripoli” to the Marine Corps hymn (OORAH!).
I’m not sure what the President was talking about when he made that statement. I wonder if he (or anybody) will ever explain what weaving he was referring to, how “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country…”
Some may ask, “does it really matter?” I think it does. Trying to rewrite our nations history to give credibility to a faith group, while possibly admirable, is misguided. One of the founding principles of our nation was freedom of religion-any religion-and this continues to be officially observed today though as with anything, there are individuals or groups who may oppose other groups (which speaks to another of our freedoms-freedom of speech), but freedom of religion continues to be the Constitutional law of the land. Therefore, we don’t need to create or change history to try to convince people we like them or accept them or don’t equate them with the extremists members of their faith group.
I am most certainly not suggesting that we should hold modern, law-abiding Muslims accountable for what 17th, 18th and 19th century Muslims did against us and others, or even what today’s Islamic Extremists are doing in violation of international law and common decency. Members of Islam should have the freedom to practice their faith in our country or any other, as long as that practice doesn’t do harm to others or insist on transplanting established laws and constitutions with an Islamic-based system of laws (Sharia) which would remove the religious freedom of non-Islamic faith groups.
What I am suggesting is that the United States Constitution already establishes sufficient protections for Muslims in the United States without the President having to “sell” the American people on Muslims’ value or worth by inserting them into a history where they were absent, or rather were present but violently against us.
Will we ever get an answer to what the President was talking about? Probably not, but if someone has discovered some hidden source document that shows new Islamic threads in our founding fabric, let’s see it and learn from it. But if not, let’s expose it.
(1) This particular claim of the President’s is at about 26:40 in this White House video of the President speaking at “The Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.”
President Obama: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-obama
LT. Stephen Decatur in the Barbary Wars: http://clements.umich.edu/exhibits/online/barbary/barbary-first-war.php