At War With Those “Who Have Perverted Islam”

by James M. WallScreen Shot 2015-02-20 at 3.05.55 PM

During a speech at this week’s White House  conference on countering violent extremism, President Obama described the enemy that calls itself ISIL:

“We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

That statement is sensible and it is clear. It represents the President’s careful separation of ISIL (initially self-designated as the Islamic State in the Levant) from the world’s Muslim population.

ISIL is not remotely representative of Islam. It steals its language the way extremists out of Jewish and Christian backgrounds pervert those religious communities.

ISIL is not Islamic, it is a gang of thugs who have perverted the historic Islamic faith to kill, rape and destroy, in a murderous rampage seeking political dominance.  

ISIL’s gang has thus far recruited 20,000 fighters, not 200,000, as GOP presidential aspirant Jeb Bush recently stated in his initial venture into foreign policy speech making, a number he later reduced to the correct 20,000.

ISIL easily receives the public exposure mass murderers always crave. ISIL employs social media and produces its own chillingly evil reality videos which are immediately lapped up by the world’s media.

Simplistic hate is ISIL’s mantra; a video that trumpets that mantra is the media’s favorite message.

In the U.S., ISIL has simplistic-minded political allies who dislike anything said by President Obama, and are eager to denounce him at every opportunity.  The latest ISIL  political ally to surface is Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, and an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin wrote in his essay, The Paranoid Style of Rudy Giuliani that since 2008, Giuliani “has become a national embarrassment of a distinctive type”.

The former mayor’s most recent embarrassing remark came at an event in New York this week which was a part of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s nascent Presidential campaign.

Responding to President Obama’s careful separation of the world’s Muslim population from ISIL, Giuliani said during a dinner at the “21” Club, according to Politico

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the President loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

You got this much right, Rudy, it was a horrible thing to say.  Even candidate Walker, who wanted the spotlight on himself, not Giuliani, remained silent on his guest’s remarks.

Elaborating in an interview on Fox News, instead of admitting he had misspoken, Giuliani kept up his tirade: 

“President Obama was brought up in an atmosphere in which he was taught to be a critic of America. That is a distinction with prior American Presidents.”

Giuliani would have the clock turn back to those Cold War days when things were simple from the perspective of those Americans Richard Hofstadter called in 1964, the “paranoid right wing”. 

Jeffrey Toobin provides a series of Giuliani attacks, all of which are distortions of the truth.

Giuliani’s attacks on the President are not principally meant as assertions of fact. They are meant to tap into a deep wellspring of American political thought, one defined by the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter five decades ago.

Of Hofstadter’s now famous and defining 1964 article in Harper’s, Toobin writes,19firstdraft-Rudy-Giuliani-tmagArticle

“Hofstadter described ‘the paranoid style in American politics,’ which he said was characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy’. Looking back, Hofstadter pointed to the anti-Masonic movement and the nativist and anti-Catholic movement as examples, but he also ascribed the paranoid style to his own era.”

In his Harper’s article, Hofstadter wrote:

“The modern right wing . . . feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.

The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power.

Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.”

Hofstadter wrote these words in 1964. 

The paranoid right Hofstadter described, emerges in every political generation. Rudy Giuliani, this generation’s right wing spokesman, at least in this current news cycle, reports, inaccurately, as usual, that President Obama is someone not raised in this country.

Therefore, it follows, from Giuliani’s ill-informed, paranoid, perspective, that the President does not “love America”.

That is sheer gobbledegook, nonsense designed to deceive. But it plays well to the political right, and it gets extensive attention in right wing media outlets like Fox News, reaching precisely ISIL’s target audience

Giuliani added to his gobbledegook with an additional “denial of racial prejudice” comment, as reported in the New York Times, that  “his criticism of Mr. Obama’s upbringing should not be considered racist because the president was raised by “a white mother.”

Congratulations, Mr. former Mayor, you are carrying the water ISIL wants you to carry to America, which Hofstadter defined as “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy”.

The picture of President Obama above, is a screen shot from a CNN video at The picture of former Mayor Giuliani is a Getty image by Chip Somodevilla, from the New York Times.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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11 Responses to At War With Those “Who Have Perverted Islam”

  1. abunaalgodon says:

    If we are going to be at “war” with those who have perverted Islam, I hope we will wage similar “war’ with those who pervert Judaism and Christianity. Fundamentalist, apocalyptic strains run through each of our faiths, and they can be equally dangerous when adopted by the politically, economically and socially disenfranchised. Thank God Mr. Obama takes special care with his language.

    As for Mr. Giuiliani, I pray he will become the death knell of any presidential candidate who enlists his support.

  2. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Jim, Thanks for your excellent commentary. President Obama was right on for distinguishing between Islam and the “Perverts of Islam”.It is the same way most of us distinguish between “Judaism” and the racist, colonial ideology of “Zionism”, or the “Israeli entity” resulting from this ideology..

  3. Charlton Pice says:

    Thank you, Jim. Very few such as you will call out the Giuiliani brand of seditious paranoia.

  4. Richard Falk says:

    I am so grateful for this careful assessment of both the ISIS phenomenon and the viciousness of the Rudi Giuliani attack on Obama’s effort to put the issue in perspective. If loving America is understood as Giuliani would have us believe, it would demean citizenship of conscience, and be an affront to many American presidents, but Thomas Jefferson above all.

    You were so right to invoke Richard Hofstadter’s ideas about ‘paranoid style’ in ‬American political life; I had the pleasure of taking a course from him on this theme when I was an unofficial graduate ‬student at Columbia at just about the time the book was being written.‬

    I would only add to what you have written that ISIS, as with Al Qaeda, involves a blowback dimension, recalling the Iraq occupation policy in the former instance and the anti-Soviet reliance on Islamic extremists in Afghanistan. In the Iraq case, the American approach involved purging the Iraqi officer corps of Sunnis who later in large numbers became part of the military leadership of ISIS. In the Afghan case, the United States armed and trained various mujahedeen forces to resist the Soviet presence, including those led by Osama bin Laden.

  5. rehmat1 says:

    Mr. Wall – You’re right ISIL doesn’t represent Islamic teachings, the same way Zionism and Crusaders didn’t represent teachings of Moses’ Law and Christ’s message. However, it has been proven beyond doubt that ISIL is a creation of the US and Israel to further destabilize the Middle East and demonize Islam and Muslims.

    “The so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’ cannot be understood without acknowledging how much it benefits the US and Israel,” Nafeez M. Ahmed, British investigative journalist and an expert on international terrorism. He is author of book, The War on Freedom.

  6. Fred says:

    The level of discourse in American politics, reached a another low with Juliani and his warped comments. It is scary that he is taken seriously by so many people in this country. I can hardly believe how inane and hostile his comments were.

    Also, our mainstream media is not fit to do its job as required in order to have a sound democracy. Many are either right wing tabloids or politically correct newspapers which have become subordinate to government policy or have biases that make fair reporting impossible on many issues.

    Fanatics of all religions are very dangerous, and are causing great harm to humankind.


  7. Jim, you have an uncanny ability to introduce ideas that clarity and penetrate the realities that confront us all. Thanks and keep up the brilliant work that you do.

  8. Eugene Fitzpatrick says:

    Please allow me to be a little off-message with respect to this article and to indulge my whim in giving a “shout-out” to the last commentator, Richard Falk, whose prodigious writings on the tragedy of Palestine have elegantly articulated the primacy of international law, social justice and humane and rational behavior. IMHO Professor Falk has been a true hero in the forward ranks of those who have fought the good fight for the Palestinian People.

  9. J. Martin Bailey says:

    You have given us a clear statement of what ISIS is and who it is not. Thanks for that. You have also identified Rudy Giuliani for what he has become. Now I am convinced that Republican leaders owe it to all Americans (first of all to the Republican Party) to disassociate themselves clearly and forcefully from Giuliani’s bias and rhetoric. If they do not, they tacitly agree with the extremism of a prominent party member. And unless they do, their party will be held accountable in the next elections.

  10. Rev. Karen Hunter says:

    I am so disappointed. ISIS, certainly a religion to its followers, is brutally killing and enslaving all people not like them. They are literally following a play book they see laid out in the Koran. And this publication is calling out Rudy Giuliani for what he “said” and the media for reporting what is happening to the victims of ISIS? What is this, the “if we just close our eyes and think happy thoughts these bad things will go away” strategy? If that is all we who believe in peace and justice can contribute to the conversation, no wonder the world doesn’t listen. Are we constructively working for peace in the Middle East or are we just the Obama fan club? Reconciliation is the key to peace, not partisanship. People everywhere are concerned and afraid. If we don’t have words of hope and truth to address this reality, perhaps prayerful silence is in order.

  11. Laurie Knightly says:

    Checking the Quran, it has “109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of islamic rule. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill ifidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called hypocrits and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter. So can one really say that Islam has been perverted? In what way?

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