“Don’t Know Much About History”

I didn’t know until today of a further statement President Obama made in his closing remarks at the Anti-Terrorism summit.  This particular remark is simply unbelievable from a historical standpoint.  Does the president not care at all to tell the whole truth, or any truth for that matter?  Does he, as one writer put it, love America not for what it is, but only for what it (in his utopian vision) can be?  And will he do and say anything to achieve that goal?  Even shade and disregard the truth.  Well, here is the quote—and it is to be understood as it appears to demand to be understood.  Context does not change what he clearly said—whether he himself believes it or not.  The quote:

“Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.”

We might give him some benefit of the doubt and say he meant the general principles of Islamic religion are consistent with those of Christianity and Judaism, whose principles are in turn definitely embedded deeply in our culture since before the Founding era—though being eroded now.  But even here he is wrong.  The ethical and moral principles—which are what the president has in mind—of Islam are clearly not consistent with Judeo-Christian principles, unless they are interpreted in a way that causes them to resemble Western “liberal” values of toleration.  The “warp and woof” of Islamic ethics based on the Quran contrasts hugely with those of the West, even after the West discarded the theological foundations of those principles.  So the president is wrong here too.

At any rate, I am not convinced that is what the president meant.  If one looks at his past comments along the same lines, he means that somehow Islam has played a historical role in the founding and early development of the United States.  This of course is patently historically false.  There is no mention of Islamic principles in the American founding documents, or at the discussions on the Declaration of Independence, or at the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or in the Constitution itself, or among the writers at those event (Jefferson, Madison, etc.), until well after 1787, with the exception of the Barbary pirate incident (1784-1816).  And when they did come to discuss Islam, it was not favorably, but to point out its differences from Christianity, differences so vast as to make it unpalatable.  Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams both wrote about Islam in the context of the Barbary pirates.  Jefferson actually possessed a copy of the Quran.

Islam at that time took this view of its vision for the world:

“The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners.” (Thomas Jefferson)

That sounds like something the American Founders would want to incorporate into our own nation’s principles, I say sarcastically.  This kind of thinking goes back to the founding of Islam.  Now it doesn’t mean it has been the only interpretation of the Quran.  But it has been one of the predominant, if not the predominant, interpretation.  One reason why it was not “noticed” for so long is because Islam was not an important player on the world scene until relatively recently.  So its tenets and practices went largely unnoticed except when it sometimes impinged on European affairs.

But I digress.  My point was that Islam did not play a part in American political, legal or economic thought during the colonial or Founding era.  Nor did it have any but the slightest influence in the American republic, pre-Civil War, or the period from 1865-1900.  It had only very few adherents, there was no mosque in the United States until about 1915, and the ideas of Islamic religion, politics and law were virtually unknown but for a handful of scholars.

So why President Obama made the statement above escapes me.  But perhaps it is explainable, it is just that the explanation is completely outside the understanding of most Americans.  That does not however, as many liberals believe, make most Americans stupid.  It does make President Obama very much out of touch with ordinary citizens and horribly wrong about history, perhaps deliberately so.


5 thoughts on ““Don’t Know Much About History””

  1. Once again, you take ONE sentence and weave all kind of unsubstantiated speculations throughout as you interpret it entirely out of context and try to play the game of mind-reader.

    Indeed, your post is a reminder that Cedarville might well need to re-institute the philosophy major, because students are apparently not getting examples of clear thinking from at least one professor.

    And as for historical thinking, one has good reason for disappointment:

    “One reason why it was not “noticed” for so long is because Islam was not an important player on the world scene until relatively recently.” I am blown away that a tenured professor of history at an accredited university would say such a thing.

    Should I assume by “relatively recently” you mean the last 1300 years or so–or should we simply pretend the contributions-constructive as well as destructive–of for example the Mughal Empire in India, the Mali and Songhai Empires in Africa, the Ottoman Empire, as well as the dozens of other empires, caliphates, etc across much of the globe in Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Persia, Spain, South Asia, and Southeast Asia never happened? And, yes, much of their contributions, even before 1492–were global in impact.

    Is your animus for Islam so great that it has clouded your vision of the verifiable past? I hate to say it, and I hope I am wrong in saying this, but one seriously has to wonder. Have a nice day, anyway.

    1. I agree with Marc’s reply to you below. You have a continual pattern of ignoring the main thrust of a post to attack what you perceive to be weaknesses in an argument. Often you can be correct by attacking at the edges because we aren’t writing treatises here–we are writing blog posts. So I join Dr. Clauson with a SPECIFIC question for you to answer: What meaningful contribution to islamic culture/ideals contribute to America? Mr. Obama seems to be saying that Islam has always been a contributor to the American experience since its founding. I won’t quibble and deny that there were undoubtedly muslims among the millions that came to America, nor will I deny (nor affirm–I simply don’t know) that many probably lived good, productive lives from the standpoint of their neighbors. Yet Mr. Obama seems to be asserting more than that–that Islam productively contributed to what America has become. Dr. Clauson has denied that basic thesis. How would you counter that? What historical facts will you point to to show that Islam did meaningfully contribute to our shared American values and experience?

  2. I believe Dr. Clauson clarified his statements on the influence of Islam by specifically mentioning that it was noticed as it interfered in European affairs. But there is a difference between religious and political domination. You mention the Ottoman Empire as one of your examples of a state contributed that it seems is being ignored. While it is true, the state religion of the Ottoman Empire was Islam, the Ottomans tolerated Christians and Jews and from a cultural standpoint, assimilated elements of culture, etc. from areas they had conquered. Complete total dominance of the Islamic faith and the purging of “infidels” was not the primary driving force behind Ottoman expansion. In fact, under Ottoman rule, the Middle East was relatively free from major religious strife and the ruling Ottomans kept the peace between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and interestingly, if you look at demographics, up until the 15th century, Christians were in fact the majority population within the Ottoman Empire. The internal structure of the Mughal Empire was much the same.

    But entirely beside the point, the United States of America was NOT founded with the principles of Islam in mind and Islam has not been woven into the fabric of America since the founding. As of the time of the founding, Islam was NOT a player on the world stage. Nations whose religion was Islam were on the world stage, like the aforementioned Ottomans, but as said before, political and economic domination were just as, if not more, important driving factors in their foreign policy. and as far as the time frame of United States history is concerned, Islam’s influence, as a religion in and of itself and not simply as a religion behind a State, in world events is relatively recent.

  3. Mr Adams:
    You are nitpicking now. You certainly know that what was meant was that Islam (Islam the religion and culture) was only noticed much by Europeans when it came into conflict with European nations–in its aspirations of conquest. As for cultural influence, the thesis that Islam was somehow responsible for a good deal of scientific thinking in Europe is way overstated and highly contested. Yes, there was influence as it came “back around” from Greek philosophy (into Arabic) and then back into Europe (in Latin), and there was innovation to a point, mainly before 1100 or so (before al-Ghazali).. But not as much as some might like to think.

    Animus? I beg to differ. If Islam didn’t have the baggage it does have, I would have no problem at all. But it does. That cannot be ignored because it is now a threat.

    One sentence out of context? I specifically said, in combination with other statements and I also gave the benefit of the doubt–that it was just a political statement for show. What he said is simply not true–and you would not even agree with it.

    And no, Islam had no influence on American political thought. It still doesn’t. You didn’t even address that, which was the main thrust of my blog. Please address that. Thanks.

  4. I am very confused as to why President Obama would feel the need to slip this lie into the minds of his constituents. Islam clearly was not an integrable part of the founding of our country, and should not be regarded as such. Even if he has some complex explanation- why state this confusing statement when you know the people your addressing will misunderstand it? Regardless, it just shows one of the many strings of lies we are facing here in our age by politicians and news reporters.

Comments are closed.