10 thoughts on “Pray for Obama

  1. You wrote, “Here’s a new rule: you may not criticize radical Muslims if you will not also call out crazy, violent Christians.”

    Are you serious, Ben? Do you really mean to imply there somehow is any equivalence of any kind between a handful of lunatic fringe Christians and a nation state such as Iran that is officially calling for the genocidal eradication of another nation state, Israel, and is working as quickly as possible to develop nuclear weapons to do exactly that while arming Hamas and Hezbollah, funding them, and urging them on against Israel?

  2. Bill,

    Here is what I am saying:

    1. A religious extremist is a religious extremist.

    2. Christians are responsible to call out the religious extremists in our ranks. I often hear expressions of disappointment because moderate Muslims are not condemning violence perpetrated by their more extreme bretheren (moderate Muslims condemn extremist violence all of the time, but never mind). I say the sauce that’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If we want peace-loving Muslims to speak out against violent Muslims, we should do the same.

    So. Will you join me condemning those who pray that Obama’s “days be cut short?”

    As an update: the Psalm 109:8 merchandise is no longer available on the web. It seems that the folks distributing the stuff figured out that it is a crime to distribute merchandise that calls for the death of an American president.

  3. Thanks for this post, Ben (and sorry it has taken me so long to comment). I feel helpless when I hear the anger and frustration of one of my close friends, a Muslim woman, and I have no answers to her fears that she and a niece who is serving in the U.S. Army are probably not safe here in the U.S., their country. I think she is right.

    Mostly, we’ve long ago agreed not to discuss religion, because if we do, we just end up apologizing for the extremists among us. Our conversations quickly become somewhat ludicrous, because we both know that Muslim and Christian extremists’ actions and beliefs are inconsistent with what Islam and Christianity teach (our faiths actually have quite a bit in common). But often events make it impossible for us to avoid rehashing things….

    I hope Bill (above) understands how our own government has aided genocide (Rwanda and Cambodia, to name two examples) by action and inaction. And the U.S. is the only country that has dropped atom bombs on innocents. As Israel, which survives with the aid of U.S. funds, is also guilty of genocide, it should be obvious that Iran is not the only problem.

  4. Hi, Ben,

    Sorry not to have replied sooner, but I am presently without a computer of my own (aren’t machines great — when they work), things have been busy of late, and business partner Harveyis out of town for the long Thanksgiving weekend. That said…

    Of course I will speak out against any person, Christian or otherwise, who calls for the assassination of any US president, whether I personally support that president politically, or not — perhaps with better personal reasons to do so that you. I was 20 years old when JFK was assassinated. Those not alive then probably cannot understand in a truly visceral way the sorrow, grief, frustration and rage those of my generation felt at his death. He was in so many ways “our” president, a relatively young man who was, at the time, the first president born in the 20th century.

    I don’t know your correspondent S.A., but the canards about the US being the first to use the A-bomb on innocents, being “guilty” of not preventing genocide in Rwanda, and somehow not condeming Israel for purported “genocide” tell me that person has no real knowledge of history, politics or geopolitics, and apparently does not have a grown-up view of the world. No further comment necessary.


  5. Thanks for the post, Bill.

    I will quibble with your suggestion that S.A. has no no real knowledge of history, politics or geopolitics and does not have a grown up view of the world. Actually, if you condemn S.A. with these words you also are discrediting a huge number of scholars, politicians, journalists and free-thinking individuals who are quick of mind and full of heart. Simple disagreement does not a fool make.

    I happen to agree with much of what S.A. has said. My only disagreement with her is more of a clarification: Israel is not guilty of genocide so much as ethnic cleansing. It is a fact that most of those who died when the US dropped atomic bombs were innocent, and that we could have done a heck of a lot more to prevent genocide in Rwanda and we could have intervened sooner in the Balkans.



  6. After worship today a member of my congregation asked me why I chose, in the comment above, to say that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing rather than of genocide. It’s a good question, and by way of an answer, I will provide the definitions of “genocide” and of “ethnic cleansing” as they are found in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary online:

    Genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group”

    Ethnic Cleansing is “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity.”

    I happen to think that the latter definition is a better description of what is happening to the Palestinian people living in Israel and under Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel began the process of ethnic cleansing when it refused to let refugees return to their homes after the war that followed Israel’s independence. It continued when Israel removed Palestinians from West Jerusalem. The destruction of Palestinian homes and olive groves is part of a process of ethnic cleansing, as is the construction of the wall and the ongoing settlement activity on Palestinian land. For a long time Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing was shrouded in euphemisms and doublespeak, but recently it has become “mainstream” with the rise of Avigdor Leiberman and the Yisrael Beiteinu party in Israel. Check out this video:

    To say that Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing rather than genocide is not to condone what Israel is doing it is merely to describe what is going on. Ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity, and it often leads to genocide, but as far as I know a genocide has not yet taken place.

  7. Thanks for explaining the difference between between “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” Allow me to note that dictionaries simply report how words are used.

    I’ve never found a distinction that isn’t more than wordplay, including m-w.com, and so I’m not sure I buy into the points you made. I believe that ethnic cleansing is nothing more than euphemism for genocide. Genocide occurs by default wherever ethnic cleansing takes place. Is ethnic cleansing too slow and “gentle” for people to recognize that genocide is the aim (and the result)? Has genocide by any group other than the dominant majority ever succeeded?

    In 1948 a U.N. treaty provided for criminal penalties for leaders of any regime found to have exterminated a religious or racial group. This extermination was called “genocide,” a word coined in the wake of the Holocaust. The U.S. failed to sign this treaty until 1986. Once the U.S. did sign, the government adopted a stance that as long as no actual “genocide” occurs, the U.S. is not obligated to act under the terms of the treaty. The use of the term “ethnic cleansing” as an alternative to “genocide” thus took deep root.

    In 1994 in Rwanda about 800,000 were killed in about 100 days (between April 4 and July 6). No government helped stop the massacre, thanks to word definitions — human beings were sacrificed for the sake of political convenience.

  8. SA,

    I understand the desire to condemn Israeli actions against the Palestinians in the strongest possible language. But I also know that legal terms must be used carefully and with concise precision. Otherwise they lose their power.

    Consider, for example, the case of water in the Bedouin village of Umm Al Kher. Israel has refused to allow residents to drill wells, and, indeed has condemned every structure in the town for demolition. Residents of a nearby Jewish settlement control the town’s main water supply; they water laws and fill swimming pools before the folks in Umm al Kehr get water for people and animals.

    It seems fairly clear to me that this is an example of the way in which the Israeli government wants Palestinians to go away. It’s ethnic cleansing, but because they’re not killing anyone directly, you cannot call it genocide, and if you insist on calling it genocide the residents of Umm al Kehr are less likely to get justice. If you call it ethnic cleansing, the international community as well as human rights groups in Israel will take the description seriously.

    To read more about Umm al Kehr, visit


    Now, I think a case can be made in which you might argue that because Israel’s policies in the occupied territories have caused so much death they are, in fact a low-intensity genocide. Perhaps. I don’t know how genocide is defined according to international law, and I don’t know how many deaths have to be caused by ethnic cleansing for an atrocity to be qualified as genocide. It’s an interesting question.

  9. Good points, Ben. And thanks for the link. I will definitely read about Umm al Kehr.

    As you describe it, can we agree that there is a spectrum, with ethnic cleansing at one end and genocide at the other? And that ethnic cleansing is likely a first step toward genocide? If you look at pre-war Nazi behavior, you can see ample evidence of this gradual escalation ….

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