President Obama’s September 24, 2014 address to the U.N. was one of the most complex from a President in many years, a necessity because of the audiences, The General Assembly and therefore the world. He could not reduce his message to the simplified American ‘litmus test’ of “for or against,” “in or out.” Thus, Americans need to pay more than the usual attention to get the message.
A good friend described President Obama’s speech as “community building at the highest level.” I could not think of a better way of framing it. The young people in the video are courageous, and hoping to knit together the Islamic community under a framework of peaceful relations between sects, and with other religions and political perspectives.
As we’re listening to the international Islamic reactions to President Obama’s address, ranging from the “Not In My Name” campaign to Iran’s careful statements on conditions for reconciliation, it becomes apparent that in the minds of some there are higher level interests and priorities than peace alone. That’s a difficult concept for many, especially when you see beautiful young people in a high-production value video campaign calling for peace…if that really was the fundamental message. Could there have been more to it?
ISIS/IL is only one terrorist group of many. And Jihadist extremists aren’t the only terrorists. While the message that “ISIS is not Islamic” on the surface, it begs the question, “Is Al Qaeda Islamic?” Is Hamas? Hezbollah? Abu Sayyaf? Boko Haram? And to keep the question in the perspective I intend, is the KKK a Christian Group? Sinn Féin? National Liberation Front of Tripura?
The “Not In My Name” campaign is sweet, simple, narrow, focused, clearly targeting western Christians and westernized Muslims. The message “ISIS is not Muslim” is a “skinny” version of a broader message seeking specifically to clarify blurred lines between political and religious constructs in the domain of international affairs.
The challenge in this for westerners is understanding that the USA’s separation of church and state was unique in history at the time of its establishment. America remains one of the few nations in which religion and national political institutions are by law and societal standard entirely separate and independent entities to the extent practically possible. The fundamental concept of a “national religion” still exists powerfully in the rest of the world, even in solidly democratic Islamic states.
So, to keep the POTUS’s comment that “ISIL is not Muslim” in context, and to sort it down to the real message, the President expanded on it. He added other groups to the list, and called upon Islamic leaders to take a broader stand than on just the matter of ISIL in Syria and Iraq. He urged them to separate Islam from broader terrorism. Without saying it directly, President Barack Obama intimated that Muslims worldwide should reject the concept of Jihad.
Could you picture those young people in the video holding up that sign, verbalizing that with sugary western music playing in the background? If not, then another more thorough listen to the President’s address to the U.N. might be in order.
Copyright (c) Robert D. Jones 2014 – All Rights Reserved 2014/09/24/Remarks-President Obama address to the United Nations General Assembly  http://tinyurl.com/NIMN-Campaign