Our “Last Word” segment on MSNBC: is ISIS a “true” form of Islam?

I can’t bear to watch this: like many people, I can’t stand to see myself on video or television. But I suppose I’ll have to, because when I did this segment with two other guests on Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” show on MSNBC, I was in a tiny, soundproof room looking into a camera lens, listening through an earpiece and unable to see the other guests. So this is my chance to see the whole thing. I’m writing this without having watched it. (O’Donnell apparently found me because of my New Republic piece on the issue.)

. . .

Okay, now I’ve watched it. It’s okay, especially because O’Donnell comes down hard on the President’s “pandering to religion,” and also on Obama’s disingenuous avoidance of the word “Muslim” or “Islam” when referring to ISIS. Still, I would have appreciated it if O’Donnell had let the guests talk more, and I’m not just referring to myself. There was potential for a good debate here. Sadly, there wasn’t much time, and all we could do was emit a sound bite or two. In general, we were in agreement, but I thought Nomani was particularly good. Salbi, however, seems to think that the essence of Islam is beneficent, and if she were to admit that ISIS was really a Muslim movement, it would somehow “legitimize” their violence. She also feels that Obama’s waffling is a good strategy for “opening a dialogue” about Islam. Tell that to the Islamic State!

Nevertheless, it’s good that this kind of unpopular criticism gets on the air at all. Thank Ceiling Cat for MSNBC, the palliative for Fox News.  Here are the YouTube notes; I’ve linked to the other guests so you can see their bios:

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC, 2-5-2015, with Professor Jerry Coyne, Zainab Salbi, Asra Nomani.

The right-wing site Newsbusters was predicatably outraged by the segment.

h/t: Matt


  1. bobkillian
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    1. I followed the link to the Newsbusters site.
    2. I read the comments.
    3. I had to wash up.

    • Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      I went there, too.

      I scrolled through maybe thirty comments. Every single one of them was an irrelevant ad hom accusing Obama of lacking speech-writing and/or TelePrompTer-reading skills. That’s apparently what counts as compelling argumentation in right-wing theocrat circles.

  2. rasmo carenna
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I also thought that O’Donnell took too much time. I don’t like it when the host does that. What’s the point of inviting people if you don’t let them speak? Other than that, Mr. Coyne was as sensible as usual.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      This problem is rife in TV interviews. I was pleased with O’Donnell’s position, but what’s the point of an interview if you don’t maximize guest comments?

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      I’ll third that!

  3. rickflick
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I think I heard one of the two women on the panel call ISIS is a cult. The president did too. I think this may be the next euphemism to make the rounds hiding the fact that it is tightly linked to the Koran. On the other hand, I suppose all religions can be seen as cults, but I don’t think that’s what they mean. Jerry, you did a great job despite the limited time.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I agree there was not enough time to discuss the issues and O’Donnell had a bit of a soliloquy that, though well done, took up time that I would have liked seen given to the panelists.

    Asra Nomani said some really good things but I think Zainab Salbi takes it personally when she hears that there is no true Islam because it appears that she believes there is one (she just doesn’t want to admit it).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Oh and of course Jerry’s part was very good! Happy to hear the mention of the Enlightenment and secular values which is what Sam Harris talked about on Real Time but was shouted down by the other liberals on the panel.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        Oh, that can’t be right. You know how militant atheists like Jerry and Sam just monopolize conversations! See above, for instance.


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      As you say, this is a subject that needs much more time than was available here, especially as most of it was taken up by O’Donnell. As others have said, what’s the point of panelists if you do all the talking?

      Zainab Salbi is typical of many in this – they bristle at any criticism of Islam, and their attitude shuts down discussion.

  5. Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    The host definitely spent far too much time talking, seemed like more of an ego-trip than a chat show! Jerry comes across very well, though.

  6. Jeff Rankin
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I found the segment interesting, and I agree with PCC and commenters that O’Donnell didn’t allow the speakers to, well, speak enough.

    I really liked PCC’s comment about taming Christianity with enlightenment values.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      That said, I am mighty impressed with the intelligence of MSNBC, as compared to, say, CNN (no contest there, really).
      I think I need to change my viewing habits for where I go for news and commentary.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think CNN is lacking in intelligence, it’s just that when it comes to religion, they’re firmly on God’s side and haven’t looked at the evidence to the contrary. If you ignore their pandering to religion, they’re good. I particularly like them on politics – Amanpour, Gorani, Cooper, and Zakaria get some great interviews.

  7. Howard Neufeld
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Jerry – I watched and was pleased with your appearance, and the segment in general, but like you, thought it was too short. Wish it could have either taken up the full hour, or, at least half of the show.

    Will you be doing a book tour in May once your book comes out? Greatly looking forward to reading it.

  8. Lesli
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Does Obama have a serious choice? He’s trying to build a coalition of partners in the Middle East who will fight this bunch. Should he run around giving speeches that insult them? Should he say they aren’t much different from ISIL, but hey, mind if we use you to bomb these guys? He has to tell them that they are t. ISIL, they aren’t Boko Haram, etc. It’s diplomacy. It’s necessary.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      He doesn’t have to say anything about faith. His whole argument that the US as a people of faith should confront distortions of faith is rather disturbing, not only because it alienates atheists but it sets up the US a nation of predominantly Christian believers ready to smite those it deems practising the wrong religion. Not only is that mediaeval, it’s pretty isolating to Muslims.

      • Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        For lack of a better word, Diana…amen!

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        I recommend pages 143-144 of Sam Harris’s ‘End of Faith’ on this.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      False choice. There is a lot of room between pandering to the religious and insulting people. For example, there’s honest description of reality. He could try that a bit more.

    • Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      It’s not necessary. Obama could have said that this was an extremist sect of Islam that is using religion to justify its misdeeds, and that other strains of Islam don’t behave that way. That wouldn’t cause us to lose any coalition partners, I think. The first thing he needs to do is connect it with Islam. He doesn’t have to say that ALL Islam is like ISIS.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        It’s just like the pass that extremist Christians get – nobody wants to say Dr. Tiller was killed because of Christian ideology because the killer wasn’t a “true” Christian.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        “The first thing he needs to do is connect it with Islam. He doesn’t have to say that ALL Islam is like ISIS.”

        And if he refuses to do so, he ought to just start calling them SIS.


    • KD33
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Lesli – I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it’s necessary, but I agree with the tone of your comment. Obama has to do the heavy lifting and will ultimately bear most of the burden for damaging or destroying ISIL. However he gets that done, I’m generally fine with, and I’m glad that he’s more focused on that than on our more provincial debate about whether ISIS observes of form of Islam. On that point I tend to agree with the Professor and this community, but I won’t fault Obama much for not taking this as an opportunity to make that case. Another thing that has irked me with Larry’s comments (repeated by others) is the claim that, because Obama says ISIL practices an illegitimate form of ISLAM, he is therefor implying that he knows (or thinks he knows) what the legitimate form or forms are. That’s just silly, and I’m sure if you asked him Obama would readily admit that it’s not up to him to say what that (those) might be.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about the heavy lifting part. Canadians have been taking the brunt of air raids and getting absolutely no international recognition for it. I suspect there are a lot of other nations detailing on a big part of the burden.

        • KD33
          Posted February 7, 2015 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          Diana – you’re right, the way I wrote it you’d think Obama was doing it all by himself! Not my intent. Thanks for pointing out Canada has taken such a hit – that should get more press.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        I bet he would say “Islam is a religion of peace” though, which is a load of codswallop.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        “because Obama says ISIL practices an illegitimate form of ISLAM, he is therefor implying that he knows (or thinks he knows) what the legitimate form or forms are. That’s just silly,”
        If he doesn’t know what it is, how would he know if ISIL isn’t? ISIL claims it is a legitimate form of Islam. It certainly sounds like one to me, but I’m not sure either. Some say Islam is the religion of peace, but that’s not what it looks like to this casual observer.

    • Bebop
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

      You have a point and now that you made it, it just seems obvious this is a diplomatic speech for the arabic world.
      Like you are saying, Obama cannot afford to look like he insults Islam when the need for a coalition with arabic troops on the ground is necessary to defeat ISIS.

      And bravo to M. Coyne.

  9. Posted February 7, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    “Islam needs to be hijacked by enlightenment values.” SPOT ON! And your argument was purely grounded and logical. And most importantly, devoid of justification for religion and its atrocities FULL STOP. Bravo!

  10. Randy
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I reviewed the segment on line to check the timing and just look again. The entire segment was 15 minutes. The first 4 minutes or more were just wasted with the guy telling us about the prayer breakfast and reviewing Clinton, then Bush and then Obama. Total waste of time. Prof. Coyne got a total of 1.5 minutes and I would say they gave Zainab Salbi the most time so she could say her part 2 or three times. With this very limited time I would say you did well and could do nothing else. It was just way too short to do much of anything.

    This is why television gets such a rap, the people in charge just don’t know how to use it. If the monitor is going to also get his full opinion out there, why does he attempt to include 3 other people in such a short time. It’s crazy. Later in the show they spent over 20 minutes talking about one football play. That shows us where they spend their news time on this show.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      TV News, even when it isn’t wrong, has such a low information density that I rarely watch it at all anymore. It is so frustrating to keep wishing they would give us more facts, more data, and where appropriate, do some kind of non-superficial analysis.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. I grow impatient with the fluff and long windedness of TV news. I usually get my news via radio while driving or over the Internet, often through Twitter. I bet I’d got in with the cool kids these days. 😉

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          Fit in. My iPad is acting nuts and needs a spanking or reboot.

          • Cliff Melick
            Posted February 7, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

            Or a Surface Pro 3. Bazinga!

          • BillyJoe
            Posted February 7, 2015 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

            Mine too. I can’t figure it out. It doesn’t want to look at pictures, but video links are just fine. When Jerry shows his India pics I just have to give up and check later on my computer.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        So true! They also waste enormous amounts of time telling us what’s “coming up next,” over and over again. And they have to model their segments on TV-news-magazine stories, rather than newspaper stories that lead with the lede! (By which I mean the most important facts first.)

    Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I read the Newsbusters piece–My memory may be faulty but wasn’t there Christian terrorism occurring in the UK just about 40 years ago with car bombs and gun battles in the streets?

    • W.Benson
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      Wasn’t George W. Bush a Christian terrorist?

      ISIL’s execution victims are dressed to mock Guantanamo prison garb (work-crew orange uniforms). How many Muslims were held and tortured by the Bush regime in secret overseas prisons? How many, and how often were Guantanamo prisoners waterboarded? How many were driven to commit suicide? How many were force fed? I think ISIL’s message is that their religious morality is that not different than Christian America (80% of us?), only considerably more honest.

      As for burning people alive, remember the USAF’s napalmed villages in Vietnam? I make no excuses for ISIL, or USA.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Good point. War/terrorism as theater of the absurd. Of course they all have their rational for these behaviors.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        Very good points, alas.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        True. But it takes a special kind of person to take a knife and cut off someone’s head or to put him in a cage, dowse him with petrol and set him alight.

        It’s the difference between throwing a switch versus throwing a fat man off a bridge. I could perhaps do the first, but I could never do the second.

        • W.Benson
          Posted February 8, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Ever heard of Navy Seals?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 8, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Even if Bush wasn’t really a Christian terrorists, he was most likely viewed that way and this is why I don’t like Obama talking about faith at all (and attending that odious Prayer Breakfast) as it sets up the US as the arbiter of the correct form of religion one should adhere to. Not that he should shy away from calling out their dogma as religiously inspired – just he shouldn’t go out of his way to talk about religion and set himself up for being on some side of religion.

  12. alexandra
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I saw most of the interview. Which was a pleasure! L O’Donnell, like most of them (ever heard C Matthews?!) prefer the sound of their own voices rather than their guests’. And the commercials come thick and fast. Better than nothing,and O’Donnell deserves some credit for inviting JC – but the interruptions were disgraceful. I never knew anyone who bought something based on a TV commercial but it must happen.

  13. Mike Paps
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    So the head of Sunni Islam’s top university says the Isis militants who burned a Jordanian pilot to death are “enemies of Mohamed” who should be crucified or have their limbs chopped off. Ironically this is being touted by some as an example of the majority of good guys who represents “true Islam”, and condemn ISIS.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Right away I thought…gee shouldn’t this guy disavow free will and suggest these ISIL guys should be counselled and given a long period of incarceration to protect society and deter others? But no. It’s off with their limbs, crucifixions, and lobotomies. Is this the real Islam we are talking to? The religion of peace?

      • Mike Paps
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        rickflick your comment confuses me. The first half seems almost mocking as though I would expect such a response, and the second half seems to be in agreement. I certainly wouldn’t expect this Sunni leader to respond that way, but the last thing he should be doing when condemning the horror of ISIS’ actions is to suggest it should be responded to in kind.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          No. Sorry to confuse. I thought the guy was ludicrous in suggesting the same punishment most of us are appalled by. It doesn’t give Islam much of a break does it.
          My sense is, forgive me from over generalizing, that middle eastern cultures are trapped in an ethic we associate with the European middle ages. It’s as if we are witnessing a time warp. My next thought is that it will be hard to promote these cultures toward enlightenment values. At what point will they begin to consider philosophical issues like the reasonableness of revenge as a motive? I’m very pessimistic. It might take one hundred years and several more wars.

          • Mike Paps
            Posted February 7, 2015 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

            It’s as if we are witnessing a time warp.

            I felt the same way when the Pope argued it was OK to punch someone who insults your mother. Most civilized westerners, even though some of us might lose our cool occasionally, know it’s wrong.
            I watched the video of the pilot being burned to death, and the last thing that crossed my mind was the thought of inflicting such a horrific punishment on another human being for anything they might do.

  14. Roan Ridgeway
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to the tweet advising that Dr. Coyne would be on the Last Word, I set my DVR to record the show and watched it the following day.

    Of course, the segment was too short but I thought Dr. Coyne did well. I especially liked that he was able to point out the current standard of morality exceeding that of the Bible is due to the Enlightenment.

    O’Donnell spoke too much during the segment but certainly interrupted the guests less than Chris Matthews or Joe Scarborough would have.

  15. Posted February 7, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Seems to me that the onus is really on the more moderate (and secular) Muslims to duke it out with extreme forms of Islam. It’s good that Jordan is now taking the fight to ISIS (terribly sad that the impetus had to be the horrific and cold-blooded murder of their pilot), and other Arabian countries should make this fight primarily their responsibility.

    • Posted February 8, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      And of course ISIS is regarded by many as a true or truer form of Islam, even some Jordanians who are not sorry about their pilot’s death. Very disturbing:

      I think I can understand the US govt. for now appearing to choose their words carefully, if they’re afraid of backlash at Muslim Americans and if they’re deliberately choosing the language of diplomacy in their efforts to get other Islamic countries to outlaw and fight ISIS.

  16. worried secularist
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    All the speakers would have had more time were O’Donnell so smitten by the sound of his own voice, even though it’s a sensible one. An odd thing did bother me though. He said that Obama was the best speaker and writer of any president. He’s good, admittedly, but Clinton is a superb and fluent speaker and both Lincoln and Jefferson superior writers.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Clinton was the best speaker in modern times. Roosevelt was great for the early part of the century. He captured the moment. Obama perhaps holds his own but as a product of circumstances has trouble raising support for a progressive movement. Reagan was really charming for many people, though I always found him disdainfully thespian. Kennedy had style and charm. The rest were pallid by comparison.

    • Delphin
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Yes on all points. Better writer than Lincoln?? Reagan and Kennedy were better speakers too. That was embarassing man-crush stuff. But he, LO, was strong on nailing Obama’s weaseling, which so few liberals are willing to do; kudos for that.

    • Posted February 8, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure President Obama no longer writes what he speaks, nor perhaps has done so since early in his first term. Nothing I’ve heard from his speechwriters comes close to Abraham Lincoln’s polished diamonds. And, in the good-‘ol-boy game, Lincoln could tell a dirty story every bit as effectively as Bill Clinton.

  17. Posted February 7, 2015 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t mind seeing myself on video (I’ve been on three US nationally televised game shows) because I’m pretty vain – but I hate the sound of my own speaking voice. I wish mine were as sonorous as PCC’s. When I get excited, as I would in a conversation like the one on this video, I sound like a petulant teenager. Ugh.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Like many women, I obsess over looking fat. If I end up on video, I look at it with one eye closed and I’m surprised if I don’t look enormous.

      • Delphin
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

        I was in radio for several years, and yet still hate to hear my own voice.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Why not post some of your face time?

      • Posted February 8, 2015 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        I just might – need to organize VHS-to-computer setup, which I need to do for old home movies, too – one of these days …

    • Les
      Posted February 8, 2015 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      You normally hear your voice filtered through your skull so it sounds different when recorded and no bone conduction is involved.

      • Posted February 8, 2015 at 3:58 am | Permalink

        That sounds right. I imagine then that some part of voice training must involve, effectively, correcting for bone-borne tone.

  18. Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    “Ditto” — everybody else has covered every point I’d make…

    …save one.

    Jerry, I really hope your publisher is setting up for the interview tour once the book comes out, because that’s where you belong!

    In other words, now’s the time to start thinking of what witty comebacks to use against Stephen Colbert….


    • rickflick
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      Colbert is moving the the Tonight Show where he may only entertain Hollywood stars. Better hurry.

      • Woof
        Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        Actually, no.

        Colbert is taking Letterman’s gig.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 7, 2015 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          Oh, ya? Still, not promising.

          • GBJames
            Posted February 8, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            It might be good to wait until it happens before concluding it didn’t work.

  19. Diane G.
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I thought that Nomani’s step-by-step analysis of the latest torture vid was a slam-dunk for proving that it was all about Islam. I’d like to see her publish those examples someplace where it would receive huge exposure.

    • Delphin
      Posted February 7, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that was the best part of the show. Just bounced off Salbi though. When I quote surahs to my religious friends it just bounces off them too. There’s a real fellow-believer solidarity effect. One hopes it’s because they feel they are losing the debate and need allies, but I am not always convinced of that.

    • Posted February 8, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      I heartily concur.

  20. Kevin
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Well done Prof. CC. Salbi speaks emotional as if she has everything to lose. Because she does; she knows in her heart she would be bankrupt if just a small part of her supernatural were not real.

    This type of insecurity is childish. She wants to live forever in the faith she was brainwashed to believe as a child.

  21. Kurtis Rader
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    The Rude Pundit also discusses this issue at http://www.rudepundit.blogspot.com/2015/02/learn-your-american-history.html in his particularly blunt style. Including noting that the Crusades and Inquisition were done in the name of Christianity with reasonable justification. If you’re reading Prof. Ceiling Cat on a regular basis you should consider also reading the Rude Pundit (at least occasionally).

    P.S., I say the above only as a long term fan of both writers.

  22. BillyJoe
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    It should be a rule of journalism that either you do an opinion piece or you do an interview. To invite three guests onto a fifteen minute segment and waste more than half the time giving your own opinions is an insult to the guests. What’s the point of that exactly?

  23. Macha
    Posted February 8, 2015 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    There’s an interesting take on ISIS here …


    (Sorry, I don’t know how to make it a proper link)

  24. Posted February 8, 2015 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    O’Donnell faulted Obama for ticking off the Inquisition as being six hundred years off. But this is a mistake. The last executions by the Inquisition took place in the early 19th century. The institution was finally abolished in 1834, 179 years ago. Maybe O’Donnell thinks that is not different from 600 years. He is flying too close to the Republicans who faulted Obama for “insulting…Christians.” On the other hand he pointed out that Obama was harsher on ISIS in an earlier speech at another forum. Realistically, you cannot be elected President of this country if you do not do more than pay lip service to religion. Obama is in the tent of religion, by belief or by calculation, most likely the former. He has been a churchgoer since before he ran for public office. A lot of what he says about ISIS, in various speeches, makes a lot of sense. It is not his job to speak for the small minority of us who applaud the decline of religion. The success of those who supported his election depends on his remaining a credible spokesperson for the whole country. The last time I looked, it was a very largely Christian population. No politician in his right mind throws mud in the face of a local audience. It just does not happen. But Obama came close to it by referring to the symmetry of slaughter at a meeting of mostly Christian religious leaders. He was right to do that, and right not to go further than that.
    The real problem is not religion but the human tendency to feel justified in murder once convinced that a people of another group are evil. That is a problem whether the ostensible motive is religion, tribal identity, or some jumped-up racial superiority theory, as in the case of the Nazis. And it transcends the centuries, something that O’Donnell should be reminded of.
    Now I agree that Islam is at the center of today’s firestorm of irrational violence and oppression. It is for the Muslims to clean up their own mess. They need to do it, because it is very dangerous for them to continue to rely on the forbearance of civilized nations.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 8, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      “Realistically, you cannot be elected President of this country if you do not do more than pay lip service to religion.”

      He doesn’t have this hanging over him anymore. He never needs to run for anything again. This has ceased to be an excuse.

      • Posted February 8, 2015 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        Obama is the leader of his party. Nobody else has taken a formal step to replace him either in this role or in fact as President. It is his duty to take a position on this and I think he took the right one.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 8, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          Nonsense. There is no requirement that ANY government official take w “position” on what constitutes “true” religion. Quite the contrary… The Constitution prohibits it. Not that we pay any attention to that.

          • Posted February 8, 2015 at 11:00 am | Permalink

            So…you think he should not say anything about why we are attacking ISIS?

            • GBJames
              Posted February 8, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

              Kindly point me to something I said which is remotely like that. Since you seem to be having some trouble understanding me, I’ll provide a few examples from the President’s comments that are completely out of bounds.

              ” But God works in mysterious ways. (Laughter.) And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation. Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt. (Laughter.) I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives — Jesus, take the wheel.”

              “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.”

              “No God condones terror.”

              “And Pastor Abedini wrote, “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.” “

              “As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.”

              “As children of God, let’s work to end injustice — injustice of poverty and hunger.”

              “We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”

              “May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love. “

              Now, if you’ll forgive me, I need to go vomit.

              • Posted February 8, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                I will tell you why I replied to you as I did. You said the Constitution prohibits Obama taking a position on what constitutes true religion. Actually this is not the case. It is Congress that is forbidden to make laws respecting an establishment of religion. As Commander in Chief Obama is obliged to tell what he is doing with the military. This includes explaining what the target is and what it is not. Imagine that he would or even could set this country up as a the leader of an anti-Muslim war. A narrower goal, focused on the actual behavior of the ISI, is plausibly acceptable. As for his pandering to his audience at a prayer breakfast, what should we expect of a professed Christian? It is normal that a politician talk like that in this country. Bush did it, so did Carter, so did Roosevelt. Hillary will do the same, as will, you can bet, every single Republican candidate.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 8, 2015 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                The Constitution does not just restrain Congress. It constrains all aspects of government. That is why you can’t teach Creationism in science class in public school. And that’s why when people are allowed to put nativity scenes up on public property at Christmas time, judges decide that Satanists, also, must be allowed to do so.

                There is nothing in his responsibility to inform the nation about actions in the Middle East that require the President to say things like: “No God condones terror.” He’s not required to comment on theological matters.

              • rickflick
                Posted February 8, 2015 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

                Yes. At least one god condones terror – based on the interpretation of some religionists. ISIS takes the position that violence and terror are acceptable because of the precedent set by their ancestors.
                But the pres really is sending a political message to a part of the American population, a segment of his constituents. I’m pretty sure he wishes it was not necessary.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 8, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s a very good summary of US political realities as they stand today, august43. That it might not be what we want to hear is beside the point.

      Until we reduce the importance of Big Money in our government, and increase investment in education and social welfare, I don’t see much hope of change.

  25. ladyatheist
    Posted February 8, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    The gratuitous clips of Clinton & Bush seemed pointless, unless he was trying to soften his criticism of Obama by saying “hey you all suck — nothing personal”

    I think it’s good to see two believers debating what constitutes “true” Islam because there were probably liberal Christians watching who believe extremist Christians aren’t “true” Christians.

    Professor Ceiling Cat did a good job but there wasn’t time for much opining.

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