Commentators routinely remark on the sophisticated use of media by the organization that calls itself the Islamic State, but in the past few weeks many Muslims have been using the Twitter hashtag #NotInMyName to offer a counter-narrative about Islam. The campaign began earlier this month with a video released by the London-based Active Change Foundation, featuring British Muslims speaking out against the organization (variously known as ISIS and ISIL), which, they say, does “not represent Islam or any Muslim.” A recent tweet using the hashtag stated that, “ISIS is not a representation of Islam. My religion is based upon principles of respect, love and harmony.”
Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’
As I noted in August, one in five Americans mistakenly believes that President Obama is secretly a Muslim. Yet more disconcerting than the fact that this propaganda has been so widely disseminated, is that one of Obama’s most recent strategies for combating the problem is simply giving in.
More than nine years (and a few weeks) have now passed since the events of 9/11, and as Religion in America blogger Paul Matzko noted on the attacks’ ninth anniversary earlier this month, the religious overtones of how Americans remember that day are palpable.
In her Washington Post opinion column, The Spirited Atheist, Susan Jacoby reflects upon the “billions of words” published in newspapers, blogs, and articles about Obama’s religion, arguing that “there is nothing ordinary, or traditional in American politics, about subjecting a president’s private faith to this kind of scrutiny.”
By now, everyone has seen the Newsweek poll indicating that a majority of Republicans believes President Barack Obama sympathizes with radical Islamists who would like to impose Shari‘a on the United States. Certainly, political debates in America generally get fairly nasty whenever the defense of “the American way of life” is at issue. And in America, such threats have had a long history of steering the popular imagination back to the question of race. But this time around, the mixture is especially volatile, I think, because race is once again being stirred into a mixture with religion.
A recent Pew Research poll indicates that an increasing percentage of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim.
As the mid-term electoral season enters its final months, the growing controversy over the construction of Park51, the now well-known Muslim community center proposed to be built near the former site of the World Trade Center, has rocketed from an issue of local concern to one of apparently national import.
To “bear witness:” Obama’s phrase was widely quoted but not seriously analyzed. Some attacked (and some still attack) the President for leaving the protesters in the lurch; to these commentators, “witness” meant passive spectatorship when a robust intervention was needed. Others found the Administration’s aloofness a shrewd tactic that gave the good guys breathing room while respecting Iranian sovereignty. Few, as far as I know, took note of the Christian roots of the phrase. That’s too bad, because they help to shed light on Obama as a politician, a diplomat with “realist” predilections, and a national phenomenon—and how he manages to be all three at once.
Concluding a class trip to the Supreme Court, Maureen Rigo and her class from Wickenburg Christian Academy, Wickenburg, AZ, stopped to pray on the Oval Plaza in front of the Court steps. The Supreme Court police ushered the teacher and her class from the steps, having deemed their behavior unlawful—actions that bring to the fore questions of the religious neutrality of public space and the application of the First Amendment.
On July 13, 2010, Glenn Beck made liberation theology—and especially Black Theology—the subject of his televised program. The real subject of his complaint was twofold: liberation theology is “a perversion of God” that mistakes Marxism for the plain meaning of the Gospels, which, for Beck, are self-evidently about individual salvation, and liberation theology does away with the language of merit, convincing the down-and-out that they are victims deserving of a handout instead of hard work. The inconsistencies of this message, along with Beck’s misreading and simplification of the various complex traditions of Christian liberation theology have not gone unnoticed in rebuttals and reprisals.
Criticism from counterterror experts targeting President Obama’s recent attempt to curtail the demonization of Islam and Muslims by way of limiting the number of rhetorical references to Islamic radicalism makes the headlines.
President Barack Obama has filled the post for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. On June 16, the White House sent Suzan D. Johnson Cook’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation. William Wan and Michelle Boorstein, posting on The Washington Post‘s religion blog, “On Faith,” commented on her nomination.
President Obama’s recent initiative, Race to the Top, has received growing opposition from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the US. Maintaining that competition is detrimental to education, this organization exceeding 45 million members wrote to the White House, “outlin[ing] its reasons for opposition, which include democratic governance of public schools over marketplace pressures, each child’s right to educational opportunity, the use of business-style jargon and evaluations in the discussion of education reform, and the disrespect shown by the reform movement toward public school teachers and principals.”
It is coincidental but telling that Emile Nakhleh’s post supporting U.S. “engagement” with Muslim communities appeared the same week as the disclosure of a new directive authorizing clandestine military operations in both friendly and unfriendly countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa. The Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order, signed September 30, 2009, by General David Petraeus, aims primarily to disrupt terrorist groups and to “prepare the environment” for armed assaults. Of particular relevance to the Chicago Council Report, the Execute Order reportedly calls for using, not only special forces, but also “foreign businesspeople, academics, or others,” to “identify militants and provide ‘persistent situational awareness,’ while forging ties to local indigenous groups.”
Alongside this and numerous other recent U.S. policies, the Chicago Council Report looks increasingly futile and, in key places, wrong-headed—even if, doubtless, well-intentioned.
Today marks the 59th annual National Day of Prayer. The day was enacted by Congress in 1952 (36 U.S.C. § 119) after being initiated by Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels (Paris Hilton’s great grandfather, if you appreciate irony) and Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas. A flashpoint for debates over the separation of church and state, the National Day of Prayer was recently ruled unconstitutional by a United States District Court in Madison, Wisconsin.
Max Fisher at the Atlantic Wire has compiled a set of articles and blog posts around the Web dealing with the rather complex relationship that the Obama administration currently has with U.S. Muslim groups. These range in opinion from those who believe the President is not doing enough to those who believe that Obama is somehow a friend to Islamic extremists.
Jennifer Rubin accuses Barack Obama of diluting and distorting the message of Passover.
Should the U.S. government employ American civil society to engage religious communities overseas in promotion of a “religious freedom agenda”? Scott Appleby, the Chicago Council’s Task Force Report (TFR), and the Obama administration think so. But there are serious problems with NGOs playing this role, either as an express supplement to, or possibly a covert screen for, U.S. foreign policy. First, it is worth emphasizing a point that might be lost in proposing such a “new” approach: civil society has autonomously done this for centuries. Beyond missionary groups’ traditional activities, both religious and secular NGOs have long engaged with overseas communities on political issues related to religion. Witness generations-old activism over foot-binding in China, female genital cutting in Kenya, and freedom of belief around the world.
The United States is an empire in decline, as well as a nation under enormous economic duress, and civil religion remains the language by which people here struggle to engage and make sense of those circumstances. The very decline of American power will intensify attachment to the language and symbols typically associated with civil religion, and politicians will feel incredible pressure to invoke it, because they strategically seek electoral legitimacy, and because they themselves are deeply invested in, gripped by, an “American” political identification. The only alternative is that Americans mourn their investment in empire—i.e., in being god’s chosen nation and the “world’s greatest superpower”—to confront and accept the loss of a beloved identity and worldly power.
During his landmark address to the world, delivered in Cairo last June, President Obama proposed to open a new era of engagement with “Muslim communities”—engagement, that is, not just with Muslim states or regimes, but also with other economically and politically influential social sectors, including religious groups, educational institutions, civic organizations, health care institutions, and youth affiliations. In the hopes of accelerating the process of rethinking America’s attitude toward the Muslim word, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has issued a Task Force Report (TFR), entitled “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy.” Our hope is to build on the president’s ideas and explain why they apply not only to Islamic communities, but to religious communities more generally.
Late last week, the Brookings Institute convened a day-long conference marking the tenth anniversary of the faith-based initiative. Josh DuBois, current head of the new White House Faith and Neighborhood Council, kicked off the conference by discussing the latest White House efforts and arguing that these would mark a new kind of faith-based initiative. However, while he stressed the differences between the Bush and Obama White House efforts, there has been little actual evidence of these differences.
Montreal [site of the 2009 AAR meetings] was a particularly appropriate site for a return to civil religion. A civic polity not part of the United States, shaped by both the political traditions of Rousseau and the Roman Catholic Church, its very foreignness forced the US-based panelists to catch themselves when using what David Kyuman Kim called the “register of the collective ‘we’.” At the same time, Quebec’s own conflicted history of “civil religion,” rooted in profound contests over sovereignty, was a reminder of how civic identity is premised, at least in part, on the violence of imperial conquest—in this case, the French subjugation of the Mohawk, Cree, and other First Nations, and in turn that of the French by the English. These legacies of conquest still haunt any possibility of civic covenant in North America, and probably always will.
It is interesting to revisit civil religion discourse in the context of a new time and its discontents, and the consequent rethinking of the theme. Three of the four posts in this discussion (Gorski, Moosa, Morgan) address the civic-religious complex in terms of Robert Bellah’s well-known concept of civil religion. The fourth (Kim) does not, but invokes Abraham Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson in ways that echo some of the dialog of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Bellah thesis was fresh and new. Given this general ambience, I would like to situate these rich and evocative posts by reviewing what, in that time, was called the civil religion debate.
There is a question that has been haunting me about our times and our collective condition, specifically in regard to American imperial decline: namely, how do we effectively mourn the exhaustion of the myth of American exceptionalism? My short answer is that our age of catastrophes—the catastrophic being one of the primary markers of the exhaustion of the myth of American exceptionalism—is in need of poetic responses and, in particular, what William James might call a poetic temperament.