Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama the anti-crusader

As with many of his major speeches, Obama's Nobel address is structured around a series of paradoxes, anomalies and conundrums: winning the prize when he's at the beginning rather than the end of his labors; accepting a peace prize when he is fighting two wars; engaging repressive regimes while supporting their people's struggles for freedom; upholding and renewing an international "architecture to keep the peace" when that architecture is "buckling under the weight of new threats"; promoting values he affirms as universal while protecting the national interest.

He lays out one paradox in particular, though, that encompasses all the others, insofar as it is actually a shot fired in the wars Obama argues that he as a man of peace must fight. It's a bid to knock al Qaeda's favorite weapon out of Osama bin Laden's hands. It recalls the dictum that the way to win a holy war is to refuse to fight it. It's this:
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Osama's favorite label for U.S. and western forces is "crusaders." Obama pointedly puts the European Crusaders of old on the same side of the ledger as Islamic extremists.  No holy war can ever be a just war.  One rule lies at the heart of all religions.  Obama is simultaneously taking on the militant understanding of jihad and denying any fundamental clash of civilizations. Mullahs of the world, mull that.


  1. When were the Crusades, the 1200s? Yep, that's the animating vision of the West today.

  2. He has turned "Just War Theory" on its head. Theories of Just War were created exactly in order to justify the crusades and to explain when it is appropriate to wage war. The medieval catholic church determined that it was ok exactly in situtations of holy war. With the the secularization of society generated by capitalism and the enlightenment, this theory too has been secularized in the direction of the ideas of the American and French Revolutions-- human rights, national sovereignty etc.

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