Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.Demotix/Corbis
At the World Economic Forum last week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that while extremists may cite Islam as a justification for terrorism, the world should refrain from using the term “Islamic radicals.” Extremism, Kerry maintained, is apart from Islam, and the millions who support or engage in violence in its name are driven by “criminal conduct rooted in alienation, poverty, thrill-seeking and other factors.”
This soothing half-baked philosophy is cant in the Obama Administration. So when ISIS takes credit for beheading the Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, it shouldn’t have been surprising that the most important thing Rick Stengel, an undersecretary of state for happy thoughts, could think to tweet to his followers was that the decapitation had, “Nothing religious about it.”
We’ve gone from incessantly offering (appropriate) distinctions between factions of Islam to fantasizing that terrorists are a bunch of shiftless underprivileged adrenaline junkies with no particular philosophy at all. Religion is an organized collection of beliefs that makes sense of existence. Under no definition of “faith” is there a stipulation that it must be devoid of any violence. And whether or not violence used in Islam is a distortion of the faith is for people of that religion to work out for themselves, not for a talking head from Vermont to decree.
If the administration is interested in seeing how this works, we don’t have to look farther than our good allies in Saudi Arabia, where the national flag features an inscription of the Islamic creed – “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God” – which is neatly underlined by a sword. This, I think is fair to say, may insinuate that a coupling of violence and faith is indeed possible in modern religion.
Perhaps Barack Obama can ask new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz when he pays his respects (an honor the victims in Paris did not receive) what the deal is. He could ask how women are thrown into the streets for public beheadings has anything to do with religion and violence. The Saudi government, after all, has defended the recent decapitation of a Burmese woman (caught on video) as compulsory to “implement the rulings of God.” It’s the ninth such execution this year. (All these beheadings sure are a weird coincidence, no?) Perhaps Saudi monarchs are driven by alienation and poverty when they are induced to flog writers who insult them? And perhaps Kerry has a better grasp of Islamic law than the Wahhabi sect running the religious police force in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam? I imagine he thinks he does.
I don’t propose invading the Arabian Peninsula, or anyone else for that matter. But George Bush, another House of Saud coddler, used to claim that U.S.’s fight in the Middle East was about promoting democracy. Obama has talked about how important it is for our diplomacy to mirror our values. In reality, of course, friendly autocrats help us fight stateless Islamic extremism and offer stability. King Abdullah and his successor have also acted as a counterbalance to Iran – a precarious situation we helped establish. (Though, under this president, we do not afford an Egyptian army that scuttled the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of that nation the same courtesy.)
So everyone understands why we ignore the fact that King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest source of funds of Salafist jihadism and the fact that religious state institutions are the leading voices perpetuating that jihadism. Obama will pay his respects to the government in a nation that has no real elections, political parties or dissent. We ignore that, too. And Saudi Arabia also proves that governments run by certain faiths have been more inclined to create alienation, poverty and a whole lot of thrillseekers – even when in the fortuitous position of sitting on a wealth-producing commodity.
But surely there is some kernel of moral duty among American leaders to promote liberal values around the world. Juxtapose how this administration treats allies; how the president admonishes and undermines an elected leader he doesn’t particularly care for and, at the same time, reveres and celebrates the life of a degenerate dictator. King Abdullah had “about” 30 wives, and fathered “about” 35 children, according to sources. Some of them were only young teens when they were forced to wed the then middle-aged King. Some of these women remained prisoners for many decades against their will. Considering the human trafficking and white slavery that is generally overlooked by the monarchs, perhaps he really is a moderate. The freshly deceased King Abdullah, says the president, was “a candid leader who had the courage of his convictions, including his passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East.”
While this administration is having a meltdown over the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking to congress about the threat Iranian nuclear ambitions, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is sponsoring an essay competition in the United States to Honor former Saudi King. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Frederick M. Padilla, the president of the National Defense University, want to challenge future students “while honoring the late king.” “This scholarly research competition presents NDU students with a unique opportunity to focus their research and writing efforts on relevant issues at the intersection of U.S. security interests and the Arab-Muslim world,” the release said.
It’s fair to say that every administration has gone out of its way to avoid insulting these immoral dictatorships. It’s just that so few have been as consistent and obsequious as this one.