If you seek to understand Barack Obama and his views, the best place to go is his speeches. But you have to read them in their entirety, not rely on hearing them or on the media's summary of them. When you do, you realize how often what Obama says is morally and intellectually confused and even untrue.
The most recent example was his speech last week at a mosque in Baltimore. In addition to reassuring Muslim Americans that they are as American as Americans of every other faith — President Obama spoke a lot of nonsense, some of it dangerous.
President Obama: "So let's start with this fact: For more than a thousand years, people have been drawn to Islam's message of peace. And the very word itself, Islam, comes from salam — peace."
Why did Obama say this? Even Muslim websites acknowledge that "Islam" means "submission" [to Allah], that it comes from the Arabic root "aslama" meaning submission, and that "Islam" is in the command form of that verb.
That's why "Muslim" means "One who submits," not "One who is peaceful."
Obama: "Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Quran."
The reason Jefferson had a copy of the Quran was to try to understand it in light of what the Muslim ambassador from Tripoli had told him and John Adams. When asked why Tripoli pirates were attacking American ships and enslaving Americans, the Muslim ambassador explained that Muslims are commanded to do so by the Quran: "It was written in their Quran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to Paradise."
That's why Jefferson and Adams had Qurans.
Obama: "And how do we move forward together? ... It can't be just a burden on the Muslim community — although the Muslim community has to play a role."
Most Americans would say that the American Muslim community has to play "the" role, not "a" role in preventing violent Islam from capturing the minds of American Muslims, and in helping authorities identify extremist Muslims.
Obama: "Second, as Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths."
This is so obviously true that one wonders why the president felt it necessary to mention it.
Obama: "There are Christians who are targeted now in the Middle East, despite having been there for centuries, and there are Jews who've lived in places like France for centuries who now feel obliged to leave because they feel themselves under assault - sometimes by Muslims."
One would have expected that after mentioning "Christians targeted now in the Middle East," he would have mentioned "Jews targeted now in the Middle East." That, however, would presumably have been too controversial to say. So, the president mentioned the many Jews in France "who now feel obliged to leave" their country because "they feel themselves under assault" — and then came the corker: "sometimes by Muslims."
Sometimes? French Jews have recently been murdered, tortured and harassed more than at any time since the Holocaust. And virtually every one of those attacks has been perpetrated by Muslims.
Obama: "We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone. And that includes against Muslims here in the United States of America."
Two facts are relevant here. One is that religious hate crimes are exceedingly rare in America. The other is that in 2014, the last year for which we have data, Jews were targets of hate crimes four times more frequently than Muslims.
Obama: "I often hear it said that we need moral clarity in this fight. And the suggestion is somehow that if I would simply say, these are all Islamic terrorists, then we would actually have solved the problem by now, apparently."
The president has made extensive use of the straw man — a false target that he then attacks. This is one such example. No one has ever said that if the president were to identify Islamic terrorists by name instead of nameless "violent extremists," "we would actually have solved the problem by now."
What drives most Americans crazy is that the president of the United States refuses to name the enemy. And this rewriting of reality filters down. Increasingly, for example, when (and if) 9/11 is taught in American schools, the attackers are never identified as Muslims.
Obama: "And, by the way, the notion that America is at war with Islam ignores the fact that the world's religions are a part of who we are."
Another straw man. No American of any stature has said that "America is at war with Islam."
Obama: "In the discussion I had before I came out, some people said, why is there always a burden on us? When a young man in Charleston shoots African-Americans in a church, there's not an expectation that every white person in America suddenly is explaining that they're not racist."
This point alone should have been publicized by the media — that the president of the United States tells Muslims that they have no moral obligation to condemn violence committed in the name of Islam.
Obama: "American Muslims are better positioned than anybody to show that it is possible to be faithful to Islam ... and to believe in democracy."
That is actually true. Given that theocracy, not democracy, is a central tenet of Islam, if an Islam compatible with democracy ever develops, it will probably develop in America.
Obama: "These are the voices of Muslim scholars, some of whom join us today, who know Islam has a tradition of respect for other faiths."
Another falsehood. Islam has no such tradition. Islam has always demanded that Jews and Christians be treated as humiliated second-class citizens — when not forced to choose between conversion or death.
Now you know what President Obama said at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. But if you just read or listened to the mainstream media, you would have missed it because none of this was reported. It was all about, as the headline in USA Today put it, "At Baltimore mosque, Obama condemns anti-Muslim bigotry."