If you were to spend any time visiting Planet Hate, also known as the conservative media complex, you would find these days a lot of pundits and commenters using the following quote from President Obama, which they think makes him sound like he is firmly on the side of the extremist Muslims of the world:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
The President said that to the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. But, of course, he said a lot of other things and the quote above is just one among other “the future must not belong to” items he listed, like “The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt.” When have you seen a conservative use that quote?
In any case, I will supply what followed that seemingly Islam-embracing sentence in Obama’s UN speech that conservatives are tossing around like it proves our president is, if not a terrorist sympathizer, at least a Muhammad-loving, Jesus-hating appeaser:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
So, you can see that really the President was lecturing Muslims about the sins of hypocrisy. Or more strongly, he was saying: If you don’t want your prophet dishonored, then stop hating on Christians and Jews. Obviously, he was not rhetorically siding with one group or another, but was expressing his concept of civility. That was, in essence, what his speech was about—even though I think the President was off-key in some of his remarks.
It all depends on what he meant by “slander” in “slander the prophet of Islam.” If he meant “making false statements” about Muhammad, that is one thing. The president is right about that. People should speak the truth, as they see it, about the prophet of Islam, or anyone else for that matter.
But if President Obama meant any criticism, including harsh criticism, of Muhammad or Islam is out-of-bounds, then he was quite wrong. That is what the entire Charlie Hebdo incident is about. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or any religious leader today including the Pope, is fair game for criticism, even fair game for satire, even biting and sometimes offensive satire.
Whatever the President meant when he gave that speech in 2012, we know he is not on the side of those who killed innocents last week in Paris, even though some delusional right-wingers, those who comment on certain articles (like this one), tell themselves that he is (“Sounds like the shooting represents a “mission accomplished” for imam Barry,” says someone using the name “Libslayer”). These are sick people, and the depth of their hatred for Obama, a man they don’t know or understand, is otherwise inexplicable.
Leaving aside the clearly mentally disturbed people who call Obama a “miserable Muslim snake” and “the most evil man in America,” there are some more sober-minded Christian right-wingers who use Obama’s “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” quote as evidence that his heart isn’t in the fight against terrorism, as Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist suggests. She writes:
The fact is that, when it comes to Islamist radicalism, the Obama administration works to downplay threats. And probably for reasons related to that approach, the administration isn’t going to be the strongest defenders of art that is considered a capital offense of blasphemy by Islamist radicals.
Her reference to “art” is to Charlie Hebdo. All of a sudden, Christian conservatives are in love with Charlie—and they are mad at the “liberal” media because some news organizations are not publishing most of the satirical cartoons or are pixelating the naughty parts of some they do publish. These conservative Christians love Charlie right now because the magazine is unafraid to toss cartoon grenades into Islamic foxholes.
But I want to remind everyone that Charlie Hebdo doesn’t much like fundamentalist or conservative Christianity either. And if there’s one thing we know about right-wing Christians, it is that as much as many of them are now celebrating the lampooning of Muhammad and radical forms of Islam, they can get quite upset when Jesus is the butt of jokes or when Christianity is mocked or when their leaders are attacked (or they can just make up stuff, like the War on Christmas, and get all delirious over that).
I also want to remind everyone that Jesus wasn’t exactly a sheep-toting fan of the dominant religious leaders of his time, nor was he respectful of all the traditions of his faith. In fact, while most of the Jewish zealots in Jesus’ day were focused on ridding the land of Roman infidels, Jesus had a different enemy: Jewish leaders themselves.
He mocked them. He called them bad names. He condemned them. He was relentless in his criticism. If there were a Charlie Hebdo around in first century Palestine, Jesus could have been a cartoonist using sarcasm and satire to make his point about the absurdities of the leaders of Judaism and some of the ridiculous traditions they had established and some of their creative, self-serving interpretations of Jewish law.
I will leave you with a rather lengthy passage from the The Gospel of Matthew that I hope you will read in its entirety. And when you read it, think about all that we have seen and heard over the past week regarding Charlie Hebdo. And then wonder how the Jesus below fits in with it all. How does he and his words relate to the debate over civility, over criticism of religion, and over harsh language directed at powerful religious figures, some of whom, as Jesus himself discovered, are eager to see the execution of someone who has offended them:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’
“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!
“Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’
“But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?
“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.