Presidential Apologies: A Contrast in Religious Sensitivities

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 8 months ago

There is something strange about the uproar over the apparently accidental burning of Korans at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

This article from the Associated Press is headlined for Newt Gingrich’s criticism of President Obama’s apologies to Hamid Karzai over the Koran burnings.   Whether you agree or disagree with Gingrich’s points, the defense offered up by White House is thought-provoking:

Even before Gingrich’s comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to counter any criticism of the president’s apology.

“It is wholly appropriate, given the sensitivities to this issue, the understandable sensitivities,” Carney told reporters traveling to Miami with the president on Air Force One. “His primary concern as commander in chief is the safety of the American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there. And it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

There are at least two, underlying assumptions in the White House messaging on this.

Muslim Sensitivities

First, Obama’s apology to Karzai was “wholly appropriate” due to “the understandable sensitivities” of the Afghanis.   Presumably Carney is really referring to the Afghani’s muslim sensitivities.   In Obama’s view, then, Islamic “sensitivities” are to be given such respect that any offense– even an indisputably unintentional and accidental one– demands contrition and a grave apology from a United States President.

What is this sensitivity that requires an American President to bend the knee and humbly seek forgiveness?  It is the apparent veneration of a book by muslims that forbids any act of disrespect or dishonor.   This is medieval thinking and, while we can comprehend that Afghanis inhabit a culture and religion that is largely mired in the 7th Century, it is not incumbent on Americans or America’s President to cater to or endorse such magical thinking.

We feel no need, for instance, to apologize to muslims for the dogs that American soldiers often use for bomb detection or even companionship on bases in Afghanistan despite the fact that dogs offend many muslims’ “sensitivities.”    Admittedly, there is no need to go out of our way to unnecessarily offend, but it would seem that we give validity to magical thinking when we apologize for inadvertent offenses to that thinking to which we, ourselves do not subscribe and even hold, privately, in contempt.

Note, too, the contrast in the way Obama treats Islamic beliefs about a book and his treatment of the Roman Catholic beliefs about contraception.  He is frankly not concerned about the Catholic sensitivities when it conflicts with his agenda and, most disturbing, is willing to ride roughshod over important First Amendment rights in the process.

Rewarding Violence

The second rationale provided by the White House is that the apology emanated from the need to protect our military forces in Afghanistan (and probably elsewhere in the Middle East).  The underlying assumption is that muslims will resort to random and not-so-random violence against Americans if they are not placated and appeased.

Comparing the treatment accorded the Afghan government and the Roman Catholic Church, the lesson here seems to be that if you are a religious group that respects the law and addresses its grievances through debate and political action, then your sensitivities– even ones protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution— can be abused and violated by Obama and his myrmidons on the Left.   But if you happen to belong to a religious group that will readily and predictably resort to violence at any unintentional or even accidental slight to your sensitivities, then you are pursued like a wounded child, begged for forgiveness and placated.

This incident should be yet another clear marker for all of us that the West, so far, is on the losing side of the war with Militant Islam as we are willing cede our own cultural beliefs to them simply because they readily resort to violence.    This is like parents who defer and pander to their 17 year-old because they fear his violent temper and unpredictable tendency to violence.   Such a scenario never ends well.

It will not end well for America, either, if we persist in these behaviors.

UPDATE: An interesting contrast to the U.S. position on the accidental burning of the Koran and the intentional burning of the Bible by U.S. forces in 2009.   I do not subscribe to the notion that the Bible– as a collection of paper and ink bound with a cover of some sort is invested with mystical qualities that render the book itself as inviolate.   To do so would be to engage in the same sort of magical thinking that muslims have toward the Koran.   At the same time, the article makes good points about the perception of Afghans who see Americans falling over themselves to seek forgiveness for a few, mistakenly burned Korans while holding their own sacred book, the Bible, in apparent contempt.



  • http://tinyurl.com/6pv4m8c Rich Buckley

    Diplomacy can always find ways of speaking meaningfully. How much more meaningful would it be, diplomatically, to have one of our high ranking, in country, male Generals marry a beautiful, nationally popular Afghanistan female movie star or entertainment personality? Such an act would overpower all petty conflations by opposition. Love has its own power….. just saying.

    Alexander The Great understood the art of diplomacy. There’s a whole other way to think about it.

  • TS Alfabet

    Maybe that’s the problem: to Afghanis who live in the 7th Century, such tribal marriage arrangements might make sense and have their effect. To 21st Century Americans, not so much. Not sure that such policy would be, in the end, effective or indeed not counterproductive.

  • Jo Anne Moore

    The comparisons regarding Catholicism and particularly health care are specious in nature. At the heart of the contraception issue is the fundamental right of women to have access to birth control- no matter who their employer is. The Catholic Church, in addition to being a religious institution, is and has been for centuries a large and successful business conglomerate, enjoying many advantages that other businesses do not have. By cloaking women’s health issues in religious dogma, the Catholic Church continues to marginalize, even victimize women much the same as their fundamentalist Muslim brethren.

    I applaud the good works of the many arms of Catholic charities. I applaud the education I received at a Catholic University. But the Catholic Church’s intransigent and medieval stance on contraception and women’s health should not and cannot be allowed to continue in this country under the color of exemption from laws enacted to protect all. No employer should be allowed to exempt a class of employee from obtaining any medical care. Their health care plan covers Viagra for men but not hormone therapy for women and this is not oppressing women?

    As “leader of the free world” and more importantly, the face of America, it was entirely appropriate for President Obama to apologize for offending someone, whether or not they are Muslim. I would hope that an apology would be offered to England if our troops publicly (in jest or otherwise) mooned Queen Elizabeth.

    The knee jerk justifications of the apology may have been ill thought—for that I blame current political processes in this country. Further, the statement regarding the “ceding our own cultural beliefs to others because they resort to violence” is troubling. With that sentence, you are reducing the entire Afghan/Iraq conflict to a religious/culture war. It is not. We are not over there to bring Christian values to Muslim nations; further the vast majority of Muslims are not violent extremists. We are trying to bring peace to a region being preyed upon by violent extremists who brutalize women and others, who traffic in illegal drugs, and who oppress the citizenry while enriching themselves. At least I hope that is what we are doing over there. Otherwise we are just a nosy, noisy bully poking our nose where it isn’t needed or wanted.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    So, Rich. Which general are you volunteering to be “unequally yoked” to a Muslim woman in Afghanistan? Be specific and give us a name. Have you passed this through him? Does he approve? Also, what, specifically, do you think that something like that will accomplish?

  • Jim Harris

    On above posts: Lord, have Mercy!!!

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Jo Anne,

    I assume that by “birth control” you mean abortifacients. You could clarify that, but either way, you have called this a “fundamental right.”

    So tell me Jo Anne. Where does this fundamental right come from? What is its source? I could, for example, claim that I have a fundamental right to swat everyone named David over the head every other Tuesday, but some might think that a strange thing if in fact I don’t cite my source for this “fundamental right.” Rights come from outside ourselves. They are deontological in nature, which is why I go to my ultimate source, the Scriptures.

    And your source?

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Rich Buckley

    “So, Rich. Which general are you volunteering….” the unmarried one who’s always felt he was a reincarnated warrior soul …. like Patton. The bigger concern is “which woman” carries a national image.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Did you talk to this particular general to get his approval for your having volunteered him to be unequally yoked to a Muslim woman? What was his name, again? I didn’t catch it.

  • jbrookins

    Jo Anne, I’ve been to Afghanistan a couple of times now and I find your charactorization of the Afghan people very inaccurate. It is the line that many wish to believe yet isn’t true.

    “We are trying to bring peace to a region being preyed upon by violent extremists who brutalize women and others, who traffic in illegal drugs, and who oppress the citizenry while enriching themselves.”

    Please tell what we have done to stop the brutalization of women. We certainly didn’t get an Afghan Constitution that would stop this, Illegal drugs are still going strong and the citizenry are still used and abused buy the current political system.

    There was and is no need for an apology from the US period.

  • http://tinyurl.com/6pv4m8c Rich Buckley

    Good Herschel, I can’t speak for your refined sense of “yoking index” of womanhood, but I doubt we would have too hard an assignment to find a high ranking red blooded US General that found the feminine features and virtues of, say, Miss Vida Samadzai of Afghanistan a mission too difficult to explore. I could be wrong. It might take me a whole week instead of the 2-minutes I would estimate.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    It has nothing whatsoever to do with a refined sense, Rich. It has to do with unequal pairing (or coupling) of religions (2 Cor 6:14). Go back and read some. This is basic, Sunday school children level stuff sir. Simple and basic. Far below adult level understanding of things.

    And I am still waiting for that name. And what you think this will accomplish.

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Rich Buckley

    I yield to your consummated Seminary training as a reliable fount of wisdom.  ”Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white,” William Blake. While the wisdom of 2 Cor 6:14 holds true, love in all its many dimensions has its own power to forge the very religious equivalency of good service and spiritual union.

    Our personal comfort zones on the power of love and its resonance in the practice of two main stream religions, Christianity and Islam, may forge your yoke, it shall not forge mine.

    As for the vetting of a general’s name, we will offer permanent Hazard Duty Pay in service to God and Country.      

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Rich Buckley

    What it will accomplish.

    It will speak in a language of the heart the human psyche understands even as many egos will not. That the does not have to exist a religiously maintained wall among people. It speaks where foreign policy and diplomacy fails us.

  • Šťoural

    USA-strongest nation in the World:

    U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called on the Afghan government on Saturday to take decisive action to protect NATO forces and curtail violence sweeping the country, after two American military officers were shot dead inside Afghanistan’s interior ministry.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/25/us-afghanistan-shootings-pentagon-idUSTRE81O0M720120225

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Concerning Those Burned Qu’rans At Bagram Air Base


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Policy,Religion,The Long War and was published February 24th, 2012 by Glen Tschirgi.

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