Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

A lost teachable moment

The events in Benghazi created a major opportunity for President Obama to speak out about an important problem that afflicts a significant segment of the Muslim world: an inability to recognize that it is not just its religion that deserves to be respected. Muslims were rightly outraged by the disgusting film that denigrated their religion. ...

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/GettyImages
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/GettyImages

The events in Benghazi created a major opportunity for President Obama to speak out about an important problem that afflicts a significant segment of the Muslim world: an inability to recognize that it is not just its religion that deserves to be respected. Muslims were rightly outraged by the disgusting film that denigrated their religion. Those who produced it -- evidently someone using a pseudonym -- and those who support it -- are beyond the pale of decency, much less religious behavior.

But the same respect is due to other religions as well. The Golden Rule -- do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- applies to the treatment of a religion other than one's own. 

Sadly, this has far too infrequently been the case in the Muslim world. When mobs attack Christians, as they have done in Libya, and extremists kill Westerners in the name of their religion, too many Muslim religious and secular leaders stay silent. When individual imams teach that Jews are no better than monkeys, too many of their colleagues have nothing to say. When Hindu and Buddhist shrines are desecrated by Muslim extremists, in too many corners of the Muslim world the silence is deafening. 

The events in Benghazi created a major opportunity for President Obama to speak out about an important problem that afflicts a significant segment of the Muslim world: an inability to recognize that it is not just its religion that deserves to be respected. Muslims were rightly outraged by the disgusting film that denigrated their religion. Those who produced it — evidently someone using a pseudonym — and those who support it — are beyond the pale of decency, much less religious behavior.

But the same respect is due to other religions as well. The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — applies to the treatment of a religion other than one’s own. 

Sadly, this has far too infrequently been the case in the Muslim world. When mobs attack Christians, as they have done in Libya, and extremists kill Westerners in the name of their religion, too many Muslim religious and secular leaders stay silent. When individual imams teach that Jews are no better than monkeys, too many of their colleagues have nothing to say. When Hindu and Buddhist shrines are desecrated by Muslim extremists, in too many corners of the Muslim world the silence is deafening. 

Muslims certainly do not have a monopoly on extremism, nor on the violence and damage that such extremism all too often generates. But unlike the case with respect to their counterpart religions, too many of their leaders, both religious and secular — and many of their secular leaders, notably those from the Muslim Brotherhood, have close ties to religious leaders — do not cry out in protest against such behavior. 

The president had an opportunity, and still has the opportunity, to call upon Muslim leaders to teach those who heed their words that they accord to others the same respect for the heritage and practices of other religions that they rightly expect for their own. He has yet to do so. Nor, so far as I have been able to determine, has any senior member of his administration. It is not enough to speak of "respect for other religions." That is far too bland a formula for what is a problem that plagues Muslim leaders to a greater extent than those of other religions. 

Teachable moments do not often present themselves, and the president and administration’s failure to make the most of the moment at hand is unfortunate at best, tragic at worst. 

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.

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