Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal scored some points against President Obama yesterday when he released a statement taking the president to task for his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast comparing the atrocities of Islamic State to the Crusades.
Jindal accused the president of not facing the “reality” of Islamic extremism and mocked his reference to the crusades by joking that “the Medieval Christian threat is under control.”
“It was nice of the President to give us a history lesson at the Prayer breakfast,” said the likely presidential candidate, according to a statement first reported by National Review. “We will be happy to keep an eye out for runaway Christians, but it would be nice if he would face the reality of the situation today. The Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please deal with the Radical Islamic threat today.”
The president’s critics were incensed after Obama cited the Crusades and the Inquisition in his remarks, noting – clumsily, his opponents argue – that religion can be corrupted and inspire “terrible deeds.”
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” Obama told the group. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Those remarks have caused an uproar among some Republicans who feel the president’s comments undercut the spirit of the service.
Jindal also seized the moment to accuse the president of failing to deal with terrorism abroad.
“Today, however, the issue right in front of his nose, in the here and now, is the terrorism of Radical Islam, the assassination of journalists, the beheading and burning alive of captives,” he said.
White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters Friday that he has not spoken with Obama about the criticism that followed his prayer breakfast remarks, but said the detractors include “a failed presidential candidate, an RNC chairman from the past who have criticized us.” Schultz said the remarks were “well-suited” for the setting.
Some historians object to the president’s simple-minded comparison, pointing out that the atrocities committed by Christian knights were hardly unusual on either side in the 12th century and that the initial goal of the Crusades was to take back the Holy Land from Muslims who had conquered Jerusalem:
“I don’t think the president knows very much about the crusades,” Thomas Madden, a historian at the University of St. Louis, told ABC News.
“He seems to be casting them as an example of a distortion of Christianity and trying to compare that to what he sees as a distortion of Islam in the actions of ISIS,” Madden said. “The initial goal of the Crusades was to give back lands to Christians that been conquered, due to Muslim conquests.”
The Crusades, which began in 1095 with the call of Pope Urban II to recover Jerusalem from Muslim rule, were a series of wars that lasted nearly two centuries. Although no reliable estimate of casualties caused by Crusaders exists, the massacre of over 2,700 Muslim prisoners by Richard the Lionheart outside Acre during the Third Crusade has been well documented and is remembered in the Middle East to this day.
Thomas Asbridge, a historian at the University of London, said in a statement to ABC News, “It is true to say, that by modern standards, atrocities were committed by crusaders, as they were by their Muslim opponents, it is however, far less certain that, by medieval standards, crusading violence could be categorized as distinctly extreme in all instances.”
Asbridge said he doesn’t have a problem with the president reminding the world that the Christian Church “advocated violence, and at times even encouraged its adherents to engage in warfare” but to suggest a causal link between ISIS and the distant medieval phenomenon of the Crusades is “grounded in the manipulation and misrepresentation of historical evidence.”
It’s the president’s pathological need to absolve Islam of the horrific sins of its more radical followers that leads him to the “manipulation and misrepresentation of historical evidence.” It is a tremendous hindrance to carrying the fight to the enemy in that, as in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. is pulling its punches, partly over an unwarranted sensitivity to Muslims who refuse to acknowledge that the extremists have millions of sympathizers and supporters around the world.
Bending over backwards to assuage the feelings of people who refuse to face uncomfortable truths is not a path to victory. The sooner we have a president who realizes that, the more effective we will be in combating Islamic extremism.