Special to the AmNews

There is little need for President Barack Obama to be deliberately provocative, as he said he did after catching relentless flak from his detractors. His remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., last week unleashed a firestorm of denunciation from those taking exception to comments they believed compared the evils of the Islamic State group with the misdeeds of Christianity.

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” he said with no direct correlation with ISIS. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs—acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”

Rather than seeking to douse the incendiary response, Obama, his aides said, deliberately added the reference to the Crusades in order “to add context and nuance to his condemnation of Islamic terrorists.” That nuance and context only fueled the outcry from right-wing adversaries. It also stirred some resentment in India from officials who claim that Obama is mistaken about the country’s intolerance.

The president’s attempt to place the current barbarism and brutality of the Islamic State group into a broader global history, showing how religions can be misrepresented and distorted, found little traction.

“What he wanted to do is take on perversions of religions,” a White House adviser said in a statement. “He wanted to make the point that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen faith perverted, and it won’t be the last.”

One of the fiercest retorts came from Michelle Malkin, a noted conservative columnist, who tweeted, “ISIS chops off heads, incinerates hostages, kills gays, enslaves girls. Obama: Blame the Crusades.”

Citing the Crusades may have been a misstep, some theologians have charged, but the reference to Jim Crow is indisputable. Alll we need to see are the cross burnings of the Ku Klux Klan to understand exactly what the president meant.

Historians and theologians on the right and left are sure to weigh in on this fresh controversy. Several have already voiced their opinion about the Crusades and the extent of their motivation. It may be useful to heed the research of Karen Armstrong, one of the foremost authorities on religion, who does her best to present an unbiased viewpoint, when she wrote, “The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems—oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevalence of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the West’s perceived ‘double standards’—and not to an ingrained religious imperative.”

Obama’s provocation is reminiscent of the controversy aroused by Benedict XVI two years ago when, unlike Obama, the pope invoked the medieval words of Palaiologos in his attempt to show the contradiction between faith and violence. As Obama was attempting to show how religions have been distorted and misused for evil purposes, the pope was trying to show that religion and violence did not go hand and hand, and that Islam was not a violent religion.