- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

Muslims are what make America great, if President Obama is to be believed. At a White House interfaith dinner honoring Ramadan on Tuesday, he said that “the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country.” We would be intrigued to see that long list and to learn more about how Muslims have been part of the woof and warp of America.

It is no slight to acknowledge that most Muslims are relative newcomers to the United States and they lack the numbers and longevity to have yet made as significant a contribution to the country as other groups. Instead of saying “the best is yet to come” — which would be a reasonable enough statement — the president chose to engage in the worst sort of identity-politics pandering, inventing a history and tradition where none exists.

Mr. Obama mentioned the best-known American Muslim, Muhammad Ali, the former boxing champion and draft dodger who declared that he would not “take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.” He also recognized Kareem Khan, a soldier from New Jersey who, unlike Mr. Ali, chose to serve his country and was killed in Iraq. Mr. Obama noted that “a crescent is carved into his grave, just as others bear the Christian cross or the Jewish star.” We assume he meant carved into the headstone; and lest we begin to hear about America being a “Judeo-Christian-Muslim” country, we hasten to note that other stones at Arlington National Cemetery bear Buddhist, Baha’i, Sikh, Hindu, humanist, atheist and even Wiccan symbols. There are many threads in the national tapestry, some stronger than others.

The president noted that American women wear the hijab but managed to demean the country in the process. He recognized Nashala Hearn, who was present at the dinner, whose school forbade her from wearing the hijab under a dress code that banned bandanas. The policy was altered later, but the president omitted the salient details and made it sound as though the school were actively practicing religious discrimination. This was typical of liberal victimology that seeks to create a Rosa Parks for every minority group. The foreign dignitaries present at the dinner might have benefited more from hearing that thousands of women freely wear the hijab in this country without a problem and, more important, that Muslim women in America also are free not to cover their heads if they choose. Instead, the message was that America discriminates.

Mr. Obama is engaged in what the White House calls an “on-going dialogue with Muslim communities,” but the outreach may not be working. According to data released in July by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, when asked if they had confidence in Mr. Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs, 57 percent of Iraqis said no, as did 60 percent of Egyptians, 62 percent of Pakistanis and 67 percent of Palestinians. Mr. Obama got better marks in more secularized countries with Muslim majorities, such as Turkey, where 46 percent said they lacked confidence, and Indonesia, where just 31 percent responded negatively. But that is nothing like the 88 percent positive response Mr. Obama got in France or his 95 percent nod in Kenya.

A lack of religious toleration is not the problem in America. Instead of diverting attention on this nonissue, the president should engage some of the tough questions, such as the general lack of religious freedom in many countries with majority Muslim populations and the persecution of religious minorities in Islamic nations, where believers face capital punishment for converting away from Islam. He could address the continued use of Islam to justify the oppression of women, which we would think would be a bigger priority for his feminist constituency here at home.

Instead of tackling substance, Mr. Obama gives us a studied vagueness. Perhaps he is trying to be diplomatic. Perhaps he has nothing substantive to say. We understand that the Ramadan dinner was a diplomatic event as well as a holiday observance and that it would have been impolite to raise uncomfortable topics. But we would like to see the president talk about the real issues surrounding Islam sometime, if he has the guts or interest to do it.

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