Even before U.S. President Barack Obama utters a word of his long-anticipated June 4 address to "the Muslim world," there is already a problem with the rhetoric. As well meaning as it sounds, the term "Muslim world" is a trap. There is no unified Muslim world. And describing it as such legitimizes the idea that it is "us vs. them" -- just the sort of divided world that al Qaeda wants to create.This argument is absurd. Of course there is a Muslim world. I prefer to call it the Mohammedan world.
To see the trouble with the term "Muslim world," one needs only to try and define it. Who is included in the Muslim world? What countries -- or individuals -- make the cut, and who defines it? Is half-Muslim Nigeria a part of the Muslim world as much as the Islamic Republic of Iran? And how do different sects in internal conflict, like the Sunni and Shia of Iraq, reconcile their placement in a single "world" to American eyes? Are extremists -- such as the Taliban or al Qaeda -- lumped together with secular Muslims?
No one questions that a religion known as Islam exists or that many Muslims believe in their global community, the ummah. As a theological reference, however, the ummah is vaguely analogous to the belief that all Christians are part of the body of Christ. It is a powerful spiritual metaphor, but not a visceral part of every believer's identity.
I don't know that al Qaeda wants to create a divided world. I thought that they want to expand the (Sunni) Mohammedan world. But whatever al Qaeda wants, it does not change the fact that it is useful to lump the Mohammedans together, just as it is useful to speak of the Christian world or the English-speaking world.
Usually when Mohammedans take over a country, they kick all the infidels out. Apparently that hasn't happened in Nigeria yet. But we don't discard the concept because Nigeria is half Mohammedan. That is like saying that there is no such thing as daylight because it gets dark during twilight.
Thankfully, President Obama has a chance to get it right. ... At the tail end of the speech, however, he made that critical rhetorical slip: "Let me repeat: The United States is not at war with the Muslim world."In the past 20 years, the USA has gone to war five times in behalf of Mohammedans -- in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.