Here is the dialogue we had:*
OBAMA: Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid.
SPENCER: You’ve apparently decided that the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Tuesday was a hate crime. What is the evidence that it was an anti-Muslim hate crime? Well, the victims were Muslims, and the murderer was non-Muslim. And the father of two of the victims says he expressed opinions that he never told to his wife or put on his Facebook page, and that his wife says he did not hold — but which you and the Islamic supremacist establishment would have us believe he held so strongly that he ultimately killed for them. And his Facebook page does reflect that he was an atheist who hated all religions, especially Christianity. That’s it. That’s enough nowadays, plus the fact that you want this to be considered a hate crime, so as to further your case that Muslims are being victimized, which preoccupies you far more than non-Muslims who are being victimized by Muslims. I notice that you’ve said nothing about non-Muslims being worried and afraid over jihad terror attacks.
OBAMA: First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence.
SPENCER: Confronting squarely and honestly the ideology of the Islamic State and al Qaeda is exactly what you seem determined not to do.
OBAMA: Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.” And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people. We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.
SPENCER: What you’re saying here reflects the argument that has been common and prevailing in Washington for years, that we must not call the Islamic jihadists “Islamic jihadists,” because that will give them the legitimacy they’re seeking among Muslims. The fallacy here is that you and others who hold to this view are assuming that Muslims care what non-Muslim leaders say about who is Islamic and who isn’t. But given the fact that the Qur’an calls believers “the best of people” (3:110) and the unbelievers “the most vile of created beings” (98:6), that is unlikely in the extreme.
You say, “Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek,” but in reality this legitimacy is not within the power of any non-Muslim to grant — or to withhold. The Muslims who join al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are not listening to Western non-Muslim leaders; they’re listening to their imams and reading the Qur’an. In all these years of non-Muslim leaders insisting that we must withhold “legitimacy” from these jihad groups, there has not been even one single report of a Muslim who was going to join a terror group until he heard Bush or David Cameron or Tony Blair or you say that those groups were not Islamic. And the insidious aspect of it is that this claim that calling the jihadists what they are gives them a spurious legitimacy is used to foreclose upon honest examination of their motives and goals.
And in saying, “we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” you’re effectively saying,: We are not going to confront the jihadis’ ideology. We are not going to examine the jihadis’ motives and goals, and we’re not going to call on Muslim communities to reject them. Instead, we’re going to partner with other Muslims who share those motives and goals but aren’t blowing anything up.
OBAMA: Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.
SPENCER: I notice that you don’t give the names of any “madman who kills innocents in the name of God” who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu. With 25,000 jihad terror attacks committed in the name of Islam since 9/11, the naming of a single person or incident here or there would only point up the glaring disparity. And as for your claim that “no religion is responsible for terrorism,” this is just begging the question: Does the Islamic religion encourage violence and supremacism? Is it even possible for any religion to do this? Why not? Why do you forbid examination of this question?
OBAMA: And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith. They want to make very clear what Islam stands for. And we’re joined by some of these leaders today. These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind. Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.
SPENCER: The attendees included Wajahat Ali, an Al Jazeera host with Muslim Brotherhood ties who was co-author of one of the “Islamophobia” smear pieces designed to discredit foes of jihad terror, and Nicole Mossalam, who “has been dishonest about her controversial mosque blocking congregants from giving police information during their investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.” You claim that there are “Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith,” yet there is not a single mosque or Islamic school anywhere in the United States or anywhere else that has a program to teach Muslims to reject the understanding of Islam presented by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
OBAMA: But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.
SPENCER: Any resistance to jihad terror brings this charge. The only way you will be able to eradicate it will be to surrender completely.
OBAMA: The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.
SPENCER: So you’re saying that some Muslims have legitimate grievances against the West. This is a signal that more concessions, probably in the form of more taxpayer billions, will soon be in the offing. When jihad terror rages more virulently than ever after those billions have been squandered, will you think of another excuse?
OBAMA: So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations. Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.
SPENCER: Islamic jihadists don’t generally consider non-Muslims capable of being “innocent” — they are guilty by virtue of having rejected Islam.
OBAMA: As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online. We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists. Their words speak to us today. And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised: “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.” “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.” “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”…
SPENCER: Your preoccupation with Muslims killing other Muslims as a talking point that you think discredits the Islamic State is once again based on your ignorance of Islam or refusal to speak honestly about it. The Qur’an (4:92) does prohibit Muslims from killing other Muslims, but Islamic law doesn’t consider this to include those considered apostates and heretics; both apostasy and heresy carry a death sentence. And it certainly doesn’t include non-Muslims, whom Muslims are commanded to kill in several Qur’anic verses (2:191; 4:89; 9:5; 9:29; 47:4). Several times over the years I’ve posted stories at my website www.jihadwatch.org about Muslims being indignant about this or that group killing other Muslims when there is never the same indignation when they kill Muslims: the non-Muslim lives are cheap, and are indeed explicitly devalued in Islamic law. So when you talks about the Islamic State killing Muslims, you’re feeding the Islamic supremacist notion that only Muslim lives matter.
OBAMA: So that’s the first challenge — we’ve got to discredit these ideologies. We have to tackle them head on. And we can’t shy away from these discussions. And too often, folks are, understandably, sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them, honestly and clearly. (Applause.) And the reason I believe we have to do so is because I’m so confident that when the truth is out we’ll be successful. Now, a second challenge is we do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances. Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes somebody to become a criminal. There are millions of people — billions of people — in the world who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideologies.
SPENCER: Bitterly ironic: you’re saying we have to “discredit these ideologies” and “tackle them head on,” but you yourself refuse to do so. You never give a hint from this speech or any other that there are any Islamic doctrines that actually call for the behavior we see from jihadis. Your refusal to acknowledge that makes this whole enterprise doomed to failure.
OBAMA: Conversely, there are terrorists who’ve come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden. What’s true, though, is that when millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester. The risk of instability and extremism grow. Where young people have no education, they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas, because it’s not tested against anything else, they’ve got nothing to weigh. And we’ve seen this across the Middle East and North Africa.
SPENCER: CNS News noted in September 2013 that “according to a Rand Corporation report on counterterrorism, prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2009, ‘Terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated, or afflicted by mental disease. Demographically, their most important characteristic is normalcy (within their environment). Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.’ One of the authors of the RAND report, Darcy Noricks, also found that according to a number of academic studies, ‘Terrorists turn out to be more rather than less educated than the general population.’” But the dogma that poverty and lack of education cause terrorism persists. And so…grab your checkbook.
OBAMA: And by the way, that’s boys and girls, and men and women, because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations — if their girls and their women are denied opportunity.
SPENCER: Are you going to call upon Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and other states that implement Sharia in whole or part to grant women equal rights?
OBAMA: Just as we address economic grievances, we need to face a third challenge — and that’s addressing the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists. When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence. It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment. Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence. And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.
SPENCER: This will just lead to more Sharia, which is what the jihadists want anyway. You’re saying, We have to give them peacefully what they want to take by force. Your support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is the quintessential example of this. The unpleasant fact is that if there is a free election, many Muslim populations will vote for Sharia. Most Washington analysts would say, “Then let them have it.” Sure. But if you want to stop people who “deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others,” if you’re going to be honest about it you will have to move against Sharia states.
OBAMA: So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy. It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally. It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity. It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change. It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation. All of this is part of countering violent extremism.
SPENCER: Here again, you say you want democracy. Very well. You got it in Egypt and it led to Sharia. That led to denial of free speech and the freedom of religion. Will you ever address this paradox?
OBAMA: We have to be honest with ourselves. Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity. That’s the truth. The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.
SPENCER: How slick would a video or an online magazine have to be in order to move you to travel to Syria or Iraq and commit mass murder, rape, etc.?
OBAMA: So these terrorists are a threat, first and foremost, to the communities that they target, which means communities have to take the lead in protecting themselves.
SPENCER: What about when those communities decide to protect themselves from the FBI instead?
OBAMA: So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities. Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith. Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance. We can’t “securitize” our relationship with Muslim Americans — dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement. Because when we do, that only reinforces suspicions, makes it harder for us to build the trust that we need to work together.
SPENCER: Very well. So we’ll pretend as if Amish communities are just as likely to give rise to violent behavior as Muslim communities. Islamic supremacist leaders will be thrilled, but the misallocation of resources could be deadly.
OBAMA: As part of this summit, we’re announcing that we’re going to increase our outreach to communities, including Muslim Americans. We’re going to step up our efforts to engage with partners and raise awareness so more communities understand how to protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized. We’ve got to devote more resources to these efforts.
SPENCER: Nothing new. Remember: the only contact that the FBI had with the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) before the Boston Marathon jihad massacre was for “outreach.” There was never any investigation of why so many jihad terrorists were connected with the ISB.
OBAMA: Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.
SPENCER: That is simply fantasy. There were no Muslim Founding Fathers. There were no Muslim soldiers in the Revolution, or the War of 1812, or the Mexican War, or the Civil War, etc.
OBAMA: And of course that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America. Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is. It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country. It’s not just counterproductive; it doesn’t just aid terrorists; it’s wrong. It’s contrary to who we are.
SPENCER: Indeed so — but in a climate in which every honest examination of how Islamic doctrine incites some Muslims to violence and terror is condemned as “bigotry” and “prejudice,” these are ominous words that probably herald new efforts to restrict the freedom of speech and impose Sharia blasphemy laws on the U.S.
OBAMA: I’m thinking of a little girl named Sabrina who last month sent me a Valentine’s Day card in the shape of a heart. It was the first Valentine I got. I got it from Sabrina before Malia and Sasha and Michelle gave me one. So she’s 11 years old. She’s in the 5th grade. She’s a young Muslim American. And she said in her Valentine, “I enjoy being an American.” And when she grows up, she wants to be an engineer — or a basketball player. Which are good choices. But she wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims….If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.” And she asked, “Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.” Now, those are the words — and the wisdom — of a little girl growing up here in America, just like my daughters are growing up here in America. “We’re just like everybody else.” And everybody needs to remember that during the course of this debate.
SPENCER: “If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.” This is a very familiar deception that we hear all the time from Islamic supremacist groups: that to examine how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism is to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few. This is hogwash. Of course Muslims are just like everybody else. The question is whether the texts and teachings of Islam incite them to commit acts of violence and think that they’re serving their god when they do. But that question is not allowed to be asked.
At this moment I was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on my return to my room, found, to my no small surprise and mortification, that though I still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of my meeting with Obama, yet, with the exception of the lines above, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas, without the after-restoration of the latter!
* Just in case it isn’t obvious to everyone, this is an imaginary dialogue. Obama’s remarks, however, are real: they’re taken from his closing speech at his Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, as reproduced at White House.gov on February 18.
What would your dialogue with the President sound like? Submit your version of a Heart-To-Heart you’d like to have with the Commander-In-Chief to Daveswindlepjm AT gmail.com.
image illustrations via shutterstock / Makkuro GL