Saturday, February 7, 2015

High Horses

So much has been written about Mr. Obama's admonition to Christians at the Washington Prayer Breakfast against mounting their "high horse" (I've always wondered what, exactly, that expression was supposed to mean) and waxing judgmental of the Islamists who are beheading, immolating, and burying people alive in Syria and Iraq, that there's not much I can contribute to the conversation. Even so, there is one thing.

Mr. Obama's quote was this:
"And lest we get on our high horse and think this [Islamist atrocities] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
The president has been roundly, rightly, and humorously criticized for both botching his history and for having resorted to historical events of a thousand years ago as if they had happened just last week to make the point that we should be reluctant to express our moral horror at these barbarians (or even call them barbarians, for that matter) because we're bad people, too. Or something like that.

My biggest problem with what Mr. Obama said, though, was that I think it's not a little hypocritical. I doubt, for instance, that he would have issued a similar lecture to those who condemned the evil of South African apartheid. I can't imagine him wagging his finger at those who were morally outraged at the injustice of apartheid, telling them to get off their high horse and remember that America once enslaved blacks and enforced Jim Crow. Nor can I imagine him rebuking those who sit on their "high horse" reproaching the Nazis for the holocaust by reminding them that Americans did some bad things to the American Indians.

I doubt he'd censure those people, not because Mr. Obama doesn't think apartheid and the holocaust were great evils, but because their evil is so great that to refrain from condemning them as cruel and barbaric because of things that happened in this country centuries ago would be just silly. It'd be an instance of taking moral equivalence to such an extreme that it becomes moral paralysis. It'd be a bit like lecturing a Native American that before he criticizes the use of enhanced interrogation techniques against terrorists (if he's inclined so to do) he should remember that Indians slaughtered and scalped a lot of settlers in the 18th century.

I can't imagine Mr. Obama saying such a thing, so I wonder why he felt it necessary to reach back a thousand years to find a justification for admonishing Christians not to criticize the Islamic terrorists for the horrors they're committing today. Either he believes that the sins committed in the name of Christ centuries ago are as relevant today as are the quotidian atrocities being practiced by ISIL in the Levant, or he's just very afraid to say anything that would suggest that there's something unique about Islam that induces its votaries to perpetrate particularly hideous evils. I suspect it's the latter.