President Obama had this to say about Christianity last week during the National Prayer Breakfast:
"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.
"In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
"Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other people of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs—acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation."
About Obama's foolish comparison, let’s get it straight that there is absolutely no comparison between the foundations and history of Christianity and Islam. Jesus was a man of peace; occasionally someone under his influence might have shown their uglier human side and strayed, but that in no way changed the fact that Christianity was founded as a religion of peace to save man from himself. Mohammad was the complete opposite, a man driven by conquest.
I think our problem dealing with Islam is that we look at it just as a religion. At one level it is that, but Islam is also a political movement. I think the real problems arise when Muslims and we mix the two. Let's start with the fact that the prophet Muhammad was also a warrior and conqueror. Already in his lifetime he led a conflict with Mecca that culminated in its conquest and later that of the whole of Arabia.
This was a man who most definitely mixed religion with the politics of conquest, or if you prefer, forceful proselytizing, including that he might have created and used religion in order to control better those that he led. If you read history you know that his followers set out to methodically conquer the lands around them; then parts of Europe, notably Al-Andalus consisting of most of Spain and Portugal; and later, with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantine or Roman Empire of the East, which became the Ottoman empire that at one point reached from Algiers and Budapest in the West and North, to Baghdad and major parts of Arabia including Mecca and Medina, but excluding most Bedouin tribes that were arguably ungovernable.
This mixing of the politics of conquest with religion as the instrument to hold the conquered lands together, is in very sharp contrast with the Christian attitude, that started with Jesus himself, of "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
To treat the two religions as if they were comparable, other than technically as sets of rules to govern human behavior, is an act of absolute ignorance. One is a religion of peace and salvation, the other of subjugation.
In the West the secular and religious started going their own separate ways with the 11th century Gregorian Reform (Harold J. Berman, "Law and Revolution," Harvard,1983, starting at page 85) a separation that reached its pinnacle with the American and French revolutions.
Arguably this also happened in Islam, but less decidedly. In Saudi Arabia for well over 200 years there has been a governing partnership between the very religious House of Wahhab that still controls education and the thought police, and the more secular House of Saud that controls the administrative apparatus. And then of course there is the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when the religious leaders took over overall control of the country and its government.
So while in the West there has been a decided separation between the secular and religious worlds for governing purposes, this has not happened in Islam and there remain some very major exceptions.
Back to the beginning, what we have to ask ourselves is where are the reformers in Islam that carry the same authority as did those who led the American and French revolutions, but most particularly those who then wrote the American Constitution with its First Amendment.
That's what Obama missed.