“‘Lest we get on our high horse’ is a comic piece of rhetorical construction, as it actually signals the speaker is getting on his high horse,” writes John Podhoretz.
Yesterday, President Obama used the phrase during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, an interfaith gathering of political leaders. He said people of all faiths have been willing to “hijack religion for their own murderous ends… 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.”
It’s unclear precisely why President Obama is intent on bringing up the events of nearly 1000 years ago to downplay the brutal acts of the (totally not Islamic, why would you think they’re Islamic? That’s weird of you) Islamic State or (nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, it’s pretty racist of you to suggest it, actually) Boko Haram and (what gave you the idea that the Charlie Hebdo assassins were motivated by religion? You must watch Fox News) al Qaeda in Yemen. Some critics of war worry, I think incorrectly, that we can’t detail ISIS’ atrocities or freely discuss the threat of Islamist jihadism without it leading to unbridled involvement in foreign lands.
Still, the Crusades aren’t a great example of high-horse Christian aggression for a few different reasons. For one, the wars were defensive wars, a centrally important fact left out of most stoned sophomores’ discussion upon first learning any history prior to 1983. To quote the great historian of Islam Bernard Lewis:
The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad -- a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war...
Mohammed himself led the first jihad, in the wars of the Muslims against the pagans in Arabia. The jihad continued under his successors, with a series of wars that brought the Middle East, including the Holy Land, under Arab Muslim rule and then continued eastward into Asia, westward into Africa, and three times into Europe -- the Moors in Spain, the Tatars in Russia, the Turks in the Balkans. The Crusade was part of the European counterattack. The Christian re-conquest succeeded in Spain, Russia and eventually the Balkans; it failed to recover the Holy Land of Christendom.
What were the Crusades in response to, again? I forget.
Mollie (@MZHemingway) February 5, 2015
That was my rhetorical question yesterday, to which I received wide-ranging responses, such as “the new iPhone” and, closer, “Muslims were taking a stroll through Europe, minding their own business, when Charles Martel attacked them for no reason!”
The idea that you’d use Crusades as a means to tell a story about all religions being the same shows a shocking lack of regard for the historical reason for said crusades.
And, sure, if some significant minority of Christianity, much less any contingent, were not just crusading at this moment in time but actually arguing that the worst atrocities committed during the Crusades should have been approved by the church and were the correct interpretation of Christianity, that might call for a much-needed slap-down. But that is not the real world we live in today.
In the real world that we currently occupy, the one where President Obama is the current president, we have unspeakable atrocities committed by Muslim jihadists with alarming frequency. Some of these have been against Americans and they promise that more are to come. These guys don’t take their religious cues from Obama or anyone else in the administration or anyone in the media, so they could give a rat’s patootie whether those entities question their religious views.
To take just one example, you saw various elites say that the burning in a cage of the Jordanian pilot wasn’t Islamic. Here’s Fareed Zakaria of CNN:
Look, ISIS is not really about Islam or religion. This is a very... I mean, this is a barbarous thing to do and a violation of any kind of humanity, but it's also very un-Islamic. It doesn't follow any precepts of Islam. And so they claim to be Islamic. No! They're a band of thugs.
Fareed Zakaria also claimed:
ISIS is not interested in Islam. You cannot appeal to their religious principles.
Fareed Zakaria (@FareedZakaria) February 3, 2015
The only problem with this is that it’s asserted but not substantiated. It’s one thing to say that some Muslims disagree with ISIS’ interpretation of Islam, entirely another to say they’re not making the case that they’re Islamic. This Washington Post story goes through ISIS’ defense of its most recent actions. Not all Muslim scholars agree (which should surprise no one even slightly familiar with Islam) but ISIS made its case and its clerics supported burning a prisoner in a cage on the grounds of qisas:
That Quranic verse (16:126) forms part of the basis for “qisas,” a broad concept in Islamic law that calls for equal retribution for crimes – in essence, an eye for an eye. As Shiraz Maher, a senior fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, writes, it’s usually used in cases of murder or mutilation. At points, jihadist groups have used it to justify jihadists’ attacks before: Al-Qaeda later used the concept to justify a 1995 strike on the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, for example.
From here on out, any media or Obama administration official issuing an edict of heterodoxy against ISIS should be asked to back their doctrinal claims up. They should tell us how they came to understand Sharia and what books or texts they’re using and precisely how they’re judging ISIS to be non-compliant. Or, perhaps far better, they should stop issuing doctrinal declarations of who is a good Muslim and who is a bad Muslim as if the U.S. was the world’s most under-qualified Sharia Court! It’s true that most Muslims in the world do not support ISIS or other jihadist theology. It’s also true that a pretty significant minority does support violence. Here is a recent subtitled video purporting to show the Jordanian head of the Muslim Brotherhood declining to call ISIS a terrorist group, for what it’s worth.
Listen, I don’t trust the media or politicians to know jack about my Lutheranism. I certainly don’t go to them for expertise on the finer contours of jihadist theology. But it’s about 20 years past time to drop the unbelievably inadequate armchair theologizing and wake up to the reality that whether our presidents view ISIS and similar organizations as heterodox or not, ISIS is making claims about Islam that they are backing up and selling to others.
Condescending to Americans by reiterating that not all Christians are or have been perfect throughout history — in an environment where people are losing their heads on camera, are being burned in cages, and are being gunned down in their offices, markets and cafes by Islamic jihadists — is weird and unbecoming.
It’s also self-defeating. A man telling his girlfriend or wife to “calm down” is a horrible way to resolve conflict. President Obama reacts to things such as the burning of the Jordanian pilot in the cage by telling Americans to calm down. It has precisely the opposite effect. It makes those alarmed by such human rights violations and the threat they represent to American interests think that they are in an even more desperate situation. Following up the demand to “calm down” by bringing up past grievances (that are literally hundreds of years old and told dangerously out of context) is just another bad relationship cliche. Enough.