Fox News figures are attacking President Obama for suggesting during a town hall meeting with Indian students that jihad is a tenet of Islam that "has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people." But former President George W. Bush similarly stated that extremists "distort the idea of jihad" to support their terrorist acts.
Asked about jihad, Obama explains that Islam "has been distorted to justify violence"
Obama responds to jihad question: Islam "in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified." During a November 7 town hall meeting with students in Mumbai, India, Obama had the following exchange:
Q: Hi, good day, sir. Hi, my name is Anna and I'm from St. Davis College. My question to you is, what is your take on opinion about jihad, or jihadi? Whatever is your opinion, what do you think of them?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations. But I will say that, first, Islam is one of the world's great religions. And more than a billion people who practice Islam, the overwhelming majority view their obligations to their religion as ones that reaffirm peace and justice and fairness and tolerance. I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified.
And so I think one of the challenges that we face is how do we isolate those who have these distorted notions of religious war and reaffirm those who see faiths of all sorts -- whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or any other religion, or your don't practice a religion -- that we can all treat each other with respect and mutual dignity, and that some of the universal principles that Gandhi referred to -- that those are what we're living up to, as we live in a nation or nations that have very diverse religious beliefs.
And that's a major challenge. It's a major here in India, but it's a challenge obviously around the world. And young people like yourselves can make a huge impact in reaffirming that you can be a stronger observer of your faith without putting somebody else down or visiting violence on somebody else.
I think a lot of these ideas form very early. And how you respond to each other is going to be probably as important as any speech that a President makes in encouraging the kinds of religious tolerance that I think is so necessary in a world that's getting smaller and smaller, where more and more people of different backgrounds, different races, different ethnicities are interacting and working and learning from each other.
And those circumstances -- I think all of us have to fundamentally reject the notion that violence is a way to mediate our differences.
Fox figures freak out over Obama's refusal to state that "jihad killed 3,000 Americans"
Hannity: "Why couldn't he just say, 'jihad killed 3,000 Americans'?" On the November 8 edition of Fox News show, after airing portions of Obama's comments, Sean Hannity asked contributor Newt Gingrich, "Why couldn't he just say, 'Jihad killed 3,000 Americans, it is the belief or the false use of God to justify killing and murder and war'? Why didn't he say that?"
Gingrich: Obama "was following up" on his administration's "continuous denial" about "who is trying to kill us." Gingrich replied in part to Hannity, "I think this administration is in such total denial about who's trying to kill us and what their motives are that it's dangerous to the country. And the president today, in this particular performance, was following up on this continuous denial."
O'Reilly: Obama was asked "about the world-wide problem of jihad" and "dodged" it. On his November 8 program, Bill O'Reilly said, "In Indi,a the president held a big town hall-type meeting, and the first question was about the worldwide Muslim problem, which deeply affects India." After airing a portion of Obama's comments, O'Reilly said, "So once again, Mr. Obama dodged the girl's question and failed to answer about the jihad. Whenever, whenever the president is faced with the worldwide problem of jihad, Mr. Obama delivers platitudes." O'Reilly later added:
While soothing words can help persuade peace-loving Muslims that we are not the enemy, I'll submit to that you that most Americans don't want that kind of presentation exclusively. We need to combine the platitudes with straight talk about the danger in the Muslim world. The USA avoided the jihad issue for decades, and finally 3,000 people wound up dead on 9-11. Americans will never forget that.
Ham: I'm "worried" Obama can't "answer a question about jihad which is a present danger to our country." On the November 8 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Mary Katherine Ham said of Obama: "I'm worried about where he stands on things like being able to answer a question about jihad, which is a present danger to our country. So that part worries me. The sort of dancing around that question, I think, is silly and does not really serve the purpose of his mission."
Official Bush administration policy: "Terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence"
Bush: "extremists distort the idea of jihad." In a November 11, 2005, speech, President Bush said that "[t]hese extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews -- and against Muslims, themselves, who do not share their radical vision." From the speech:
All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random, isolated acts of madness -- innocent men and women and children who have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building, or checked into the wrong hotel. Yet, while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology -- a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.
Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; and still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews -- and against Muslims, themselves, who do not share their radical vision.
Bush: "extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against anyone who does not share their radical vision." In a October 17, 2005, speech, Bush said that "These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against anyone who does not share their radical vision, including Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics." From the speech:
As we work together to defeat the terrorists, we must be very clear about the enemies we face. The killers who take the lives of innocent men, women, and children are followers of a violent ideology very different from the religion of Islam. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against anyone who does not share their radical vision, including Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.
Their strategy will fail. Many Muslim scholars have already publicly condemned terrorism, often citing chapter 5, verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all of humanity. I appreciate those of you here who have joined these scholars in rejecting violent extremists. And I believe the time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to denounce an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles your noble faith.
2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism: "Terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence and murder against those they regard as apostates or unbelievers." The September 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism -- authored by the Bush administration's National Security Council -- stated of "Today's Terrorist Enemy": "This enemy movement seeks to create and exploit a division between the Muslim and non-Muslim world and within the Muslim world itself. The terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence and murder against those they regard as apostates or unbelievers, including all those who disagree with them. Most of the terrorist attacks since September 11 have occurred in Muslim countries -- and most of the victims have been Muslims."
Bush adviser Hughes: I recommended to Bush that he stop referencing "Islamic jihad." According to an April 7 Associated Press report, Karen Hughes, who served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Bush administration, took credit for urging President Bush to stop using the term "Islamic jihad" because of "the way it's heard" by Muslims:
But the Bush administration struggled with its rhetoric. Muslims criticized him for describing the war against terror as a "crusade" and labeling the invasion of Afghanistan "Operation Infinite Justice" -- words that were seen as religious. He regularly identified America's enemy as "Islamic extremists" and "radical jihadists."
Karen Hughes, a Bush confidant who served as his top diplomat to the Muslim world in his second term, urged the White House to stop.
"I did recommend that, in my judgment, it's unfortunate because of the way it's heard. We ought to avoid the language of religion," Hughes said. "Whenever they hear 'Islamic extremism, Islamic jihad, Islamic fundamentalism,' they perceive it as a sort of an attack on their faith. That's the world view Osama bin Laden wants them to have."
Hughes and Juan Zarate, Bush's former deputy national security adviser, said Obama's efforts build on groundwork from Bush's second term, when some of the rhetoric softened.
FoxNews.com: Obama's remarks have been widely praised by Indian Muslims
Indian Muslim leaders: Obama "is right," jihad "has been wrongly interpreted by some people." In a November 8 article headlined "Indian Muslims Appreciate Obama Remarks on 'Jihad,'" FoxNews.com reported:
President Obama's remarks on the real meaning of "jihad" and the exploitation of Islam by extremists has gone over well with Muslim activists and opinion-makers in India, where the president is traveling on a three-day jaunt to the world's largest democracy.
"Jihad can in no way assume the form of violence against the innocent and those who are perpetrating such violent acts have done great disservice to Islam," Kamal Farooqi, a prominent member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which protects the use of Islamic Shariah law for Muslims in India, was quoted saying by the Times of India.
"To that extent President Obama is correct," Farooqi said.
Maulana Masood Madani, head of the Organization of Indian Scholars known as Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, which also promotes Muslim issues in India, also agreed that Obama gets it.
"It's true that jihad has been wrongly interpreted by some people; however, I don't know by what yardsticks the US brands someone a jihadi or non-jihadi," said Madani, who is a parliamentarian.
"He is right -- jihad originally meant struggle against injustice, it does not mean killing the innocent," said Parliamentarian Rashid Alvi, who told the Times of India that Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba do not represent Islamic interests.
Right-wing media previously attacked Brennan over similar statements about jihad
Right-wing media previously claimed Obama administration counterterrorism adviser John Brennan's statement that jihad is a "legitimate tenet of Islam" was "absurd" and frightening" and indicates Brennan is "deranged." Hannity, for example, called for Brennan to be "fired for his ignorance."
Fox News has an Islam problem
The network has a long history of making controversial assertions about Muslims -- often by baselessly branding them as "terrorists" or "terrorist sympathizers" -- calling for profiling, or equating Islam and all of its adherents with radical extremists who claim to act in its name.