The main thrust of President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last week was to separate war from religion. Good luck with that. Simply acknowledging the ways religion and war have been bound up with each other — along with other forms of violence like slavery and Jim Crow — was enough to send Obama’s predictable critics crawling the walls with outrage. What he didn’t acknowledge was how The Clash of Civilizations is not some newly-minted notion of ISIL — or al-Qaeda or even Samuel P. Huntington, who has gotten much mileage from the phrase. Edward Said traced its roots to the Greeks and the Romans, taken up by The Crusades, handled with Enlightenment madness by Napoleon, and fed the Orientalism of 19th Century European imperialism.

We can find it in our present day conflicts, too. Oil and opportunism may have been strong motivating factors in the last decade, but the rhetoric suggests a strange mixture of Wilsonian paternalism and fundamentalist missionary zeal. Even the libruls talked ceaselessly of just war theory in the days leading up to the Iraq invasion. It continues to dominate our cable news networks, our opinion pages, our extremists churches and mosques. It’s onscreen and on the page in biography of Christopher Kyle. Every so often a priest or a cleric from either religion vows to burn or piss on the other’s sacred text. Certainly our torturers enjoyed taking a leak on the Quran every so often.

I sympathize with the President’s argument that we should not sully the good name of religion with bloodshed, that our causes should be practical and serve the greater good. It might help his argument more if his flying robot assassination squad were not terrorizing the people of the Middle East, or if the civilian and intelligence leadership that oversaw torture programs were held accountable.

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