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The Historically-Challenged President By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 18, 2009

Barack Obama, as Victor Hanson recently documented, may be our most historically challenged president ever. Some might think that the inaccuracies Hanson identifies are no big deal, but there are several reasons to be troubled by such ignorance.


First there’s the double standard of a mainstream media that for eight years scorned George Bush as a syntactically challenged ignoramus, and now gush over a president touted as an eloquent intellectual. Of course, the media have to ignore the fact that Obama’s eloquence is dependent on the teleprompter, or that he refuses to publicize his college transcripts, not to mention the numerous errors of fact evident both in his campaign and presidential speeches. Their assertions of his brilliance, despite gaffes such as those on display in Cairo, are like their assertions of Bush’s stupidity: wish-fulfilling myths serving partisan ends.


But more important is the danger to our foreign policy that such an ignorance of history represents. Particularly in our fight against radical Islam, history supposedly provides the basis of Muslim grievances against the West, especially the United States. Colonial occupation, imperialist aggression, the Western imposition of Israel on the “Palestinian homeland” in order to atone for the Holocaust––these sins of the West against the House of Islam are constantly put forth as rationalizations and justifications for violence against Western interests.


If history is to provide the foundation of grievance, however, then all of history is on the table, and that history must be factually accurate and judged by consistent standards. If, for example, the enslavement of Africans is an evil for which the West must take responsibility, then all slavery everywhere must be condemned equally. But when do we ever hear about Islamic slavery? In the three-century long heyday of Western slavery, some 10 million slaves crossed the Atlantic. Yet in the 14-century-long existence of Islamic slavery––still going on today in Africa in places such as Sudan––an equal number of black Africans were enslaved by Muslims.  We hear all the time about the horrors of the “middle passage” across the Atlantic, but never about the forced marches of Africans across the Sahara desert, where thousands died of disease, exhaustion, and malnutrition. We never hear about the African men who had been castrated to be sold as eunuchs, if they were lucky enough to survive an operation in which not just their testicles, but all their external genitalia were cut off.


And don’t forget that slavery in the West was ended by movements of emancipation backed up by the British navy, movements that have not arisen from within Islam simply because the Koran does not forbid slavery. Don’t forget that included in the toll of those enslaved by Muslims were millions of Europeans taken in raids and sold for the harems, armies, and galleys of Muslim emirs, sultans, and caliphs. Yet have you ever heard a Muslim leader today apologize for slavery? Meanwhile, American leaders continually don the hair-shirt of guilt over slavery despite the fact that only 800,000 of the 10 million slaves that crossed the Atlantic came to the United States, and despite the bloody, destructive civil war that in part was fought to end slavery.


So too with the presumed sins of “colonialism” and “imperialism.” The modern European presence in the Muslim Middle East lasted for less than two centuries. Yet Muslims occupied Spain for over seven centuries, and the Muslim occupation of the Balkans for half a millennium didn’t finally end until World War I. And vast regions of the Middle East––north Africa, Egypt, Turkey, the Holy Land––that were not Muslim but Christian homelands, are still “occupied” by the descendents of imperialistic, colonizing Muslim Arabs and Turks who came as alien invaders and conquered those territories. In fact, if we are to add up historical grievances, the West has a long way to go to catch up with the centuries of attacks, raids, invasions, plunder, murder, and enslavement perpetrated by Muslims against Christians. But do we ever hear any Muslim leader apologize for this record of imperialist aggression and occupation, one triumphantly documented by numerous Muslim historians?


This acceptance by Westerners of a double standard when it comes to historical grievance is nothing other than groveling appeasement. Why do we fret over the status of Jerusalem, a city fixed by archaeology and history as the spiritual and political center of Judaism, when one of Christendom’s most cherished churches, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, remains in the possession of Muslims? Worse yet, we scold the Israelis over Jerusalem even though the Temple Mount remains under Arab control, and the Al Aqsa mosque still sits on the site of the Second Temple! If Israel had Islam’s standards of justice, the mosque would have been razed a new temple built where its two predecessors stood for over a thousand years.


Because of this double standard, we fall all over ourselves accommodating Muslim immigrants in the West, even as Christians are disappearing from the lands they inhabited for seven centuries before Islam even existed. We agonize over the 600,000 “Palestinian” refugees kept in squalid camps by their fellow Muslim Arabs, yet never say a word about the 800,000 Jews kicked out of Egypt, North Africa, Iraq, and Iran, places their ancestors inhabited in some cases for two thousand years. We harp on the “two-state” solution and demand a “Palestinian homeland,” yet never ask the Arabs why they didn’t create this homeland when the so-called West Bank was in their possession. We anxiously monitor our media and popular culture for insults against Islam, even as state-run media and universities in Muslim lands indulge anti-Semitic slanders that would make Hitler blush––much of it perpetrated by the same Al Azhar university that our President recently hailed as a “beacon of learning.”


There are many reasons for this double standard, not the least being the fatal self-loathing of Western elites. But this hatred of the West itself depends on an ignorance of history on display in many of Obama’s speeches. And that ignorance in turn reflects the corruption of history over the last forty years, which has seen a once-noble discipline turned from the record of what has happened into a melodrama of grievance used to advance political ideology. The next few years will show us how large a price we will pay for ignoring historical truth, as our acceptance of this skewed history saps our will to resist an enemy passionately convinced of his righteousness.

Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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