Although he’s not running, President Obama’s record on dealing with the challenge posed from the Islamic world to America’s national security keeps roiling this year’s race for the White House. And a new study has once again revealed why the approach taken by Mr. Obama – and the two remaining Democratic White House hopefuls – remains so deeply and rightly unsatisfying to so many American voters.
As I’ve noted previously, the president’s ambiguous rhetoric on the Muslim challenge hasn’t helped – and in recent weeks, it has gotten no clearer. He continues to blast “the language that [front-running GOP presidential candidate] Donald Trump has used and his logical conclusion that we should ban Muslims from entering the country, including potentially Muslim citizens.” Mr. Obama further declared, “I’m amused when I watch Republicans claim that Trump’s language is unacceptable, and ask, ‘How did we get here?’ We got here in part because the Republican base had been fed this notion that Islam is inherently violent, that this is who these folks are.”
It’s a coherent position to be sure. But when it comes to setting policy, it’s certainly hard to square with his acknowledgment that although the “violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic interpretation of Islam by a faction [is] a tiny faction—within the Muslim community,” after many years of horrific terrorism and atrocities by this faction, there is still a “need for Islam as a whole to challenge that interpretation of Islam, to isolate it, and to undergo a vigorous discussion within their community about how Islam works as part of a peaceful, modern society.”
These statements vigorously beg the questions, “Why does Mr. Obama think it has taken the ostensibly huge moderate global Muslim majority has been so slow to wake up to this threat?” and – more urgently – “How long should America wait before admitting that the problem is much broader?”
The new findings, from the World Value Survey (WVS), strongly indicate that the answers, respectively, are “a long time,” and “pretty darned soon.” For the survey sampled 12 Arab and 47 non-Arab countries, and shows that a combination of Islam and autocratic governments has produced Arab world populations with values that are remarkably medieval and conducive to spawning harsh versions of fundamentalism. Even worse, the results make clear that simply expanding educational opportunities within the Muslim Arab world will be no panacea – since its dictatorships have infused school systems with “conservative, religious values – first in order to fight leftist opposition groups, and later to compete with Islamic groups on their own terrain.”
As described by Ishac Diwan, a Middle East specialist at Harvard University, education in the Arab world generally, is “designed for indoctrination. Most [school systems] are characterized by rote learning, disregard for analytical capabilities, an exaggerated focus on religious subjects and values, the discouragement of self-expression in favor of conformism, and students’ lack of involvement in community affairs. These features are all geared to promote obedience and discourage the questioning of authority.”
So not surprisingly, when it comes to supporting values like democracy, respect for authority, and patriarchy, the WVS reports (a) that there’s a big lag between the Arab countries and the rest, and (b) that “The biggest differences between Arab countries and the rest of the world can be found among the educated.”
A Trump-like ban on all foreign Muslims’ travel to the United States surely isn’t the answer. But just as absurd – and dangerous – are the president’s claims that his administration can adequately vet all refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern countries; that migrant flows from those lands don’t pose special threats that don’t require special responses; and that anyone who disagrees is a hater.
For however reasonable it might sound to focus on ensuring that U.S. policies and rhetoric don’t needlessly antagonize Muslims, and on retaining the support of that faith’s ostensibly moderate majority, the WVS results add to the evidence that this battle looks ever less winnable.