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Obama takes on Islamic extremism

But will our Muslim allies answer his call?

Saudi Arabian Coat of Arms
Saudi Arabian Coat of Arms

Saudi Arabian Coat of Arms

In addressing the nation on domestic terrorism on Sunday, President Obama went further than he has ever gone in identifying the source of terroristic attacks by Muslims in today’s world. He did so after true but anodyne prefatory remarks on the need to recognize that most Muslims are blameless:

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

It’s the last clause that’s most important. Rejecting the jihadist programs of ISIS and its ilk (including Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram in Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba in South Asia) is easy enough. Rejecting interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity is something else.

In 1981 and again in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly passed declarations on religious freedom that are flagrantly violated by a number of Islamic states — most notably Saudi Arabia — from which the ideology of ISIS et al. derives. These countries need to own up to their responsibility.

Last night, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement praising the president for rejecting Islamophobia. The head of its Los Angeles chapter allowed as how “some of our own foreign policy, as Americans, as the West, have fueled [Islamic] extremism.” It’s past time for CAIR to step forward and declare that our own Muslim allies have promoted and disseminated interpretations of Islam that have fueled that extremism too.

Of course, what President Obama had to say last night will not satisfy his Republican critics, who are committed to treating him as a leader who cannot speak our adversary’s name. But whether they acknowledge it or not, he has served notice.