As Barack Obama declares that the United States of America "is not and never will be at war with Islam," his peacemaking efforts are failing with precisely those camps in the Muslim world and the West who find a cosmic war to be far more profitable personally than a sober peace.
Robert Spencer, perhaps the most rabid of the Western anti-Muslim, uh, "scholars," used his noxious Front Page magazine forum to express his bitter disappointment in Obama's charitable words about Islam yesterday in Turkey. Franklin Graham spoke for many Americans when he famously denounced Islam in its entirely as a "very evil and wicked religion," and it would be a stretch to say that such persons would be happy with Obama's efforts to offer himself as a new "crypto-Muslim" face for their nation.
Yet Obama, even as a transformational president, is merely channeling the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson observed that his concept of American religious liberty "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination." That's good news for all of us infidels.
And George Washington helped negotiate 1797's Treaty of Tripoli relating to Barbary piracy, which includes these powerful words:
"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen and as the said States have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
Christian rightists deny or minimize Washington's personal involvement in that treaty and point out that it was signed by John Adams instead. In any event, the words were adopted. And two years later, U.S. consul William Eaton would assure Muslims, during ongoing conflicts with Barbary pirates, "Be assured that the God of the Americans and of the Mohometans is the same; the one true and omnipotent God."
Ah, but that is too sober and reasoned to work with American audiences who combine religious zeal with flag-waving. And the reason the Muslim world hasn't been able to get comfortable with American attempts to remake the world since 9/11 is because of the double-talk within the American camp that is most intent on clubbing the Muslim world into Western-style democracy: One element of those camps (the Bush 41 camp) seemed to genuinely believe Muslims could be democratic; but their alliance with the Robert Spencers and Mark Steyns of the world, who deny that Islamic civilization has any redeeming features, confirmed for the Muslim world that Islam was under attack.
Now, a new face for the U.S., which speaks a new vocabulary, offers a new path forward. Trust won't happen instantly, but Obama's ability to identify ethnically and emotionally with that part of the world, along with his ability to articulate American tolerance that goes back to the founding fathers, means that we're on our way.