It’s a great paradox of American progressivism: Leftists who normally crusade against the Founding Fathers switch gears and suddenly appeal to the memory of men like Thomas Jefferson when it helps advance a progressive agenda.
Historian David Barton says that’s exactly what President Barack Obama is doing when it comes to Islam.
But Barton argues the author of the Declaration of Independence had no illusions about Islam being a “religion of peace.”
“President Obama talked about how Islam is a religion of peace and this is certainly a mantra he’s carried for a number of years,” said Barton. “Now Thomas Jefferson would specifically disagree with him over that and that’s very clear in Jefferson’s writings. Even though the president invoked Jefferson saying, ‘Jefferson’s been called a Muslim, I’ve been called a Muslim, we’ve got a lot in common,’ they really don’t have a lot in common.”
Obama attempted to portray Islam as a major part of American history by discussing how Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both owned Qurans.
What Obama didn’t mention, said Barton, is why they owned copies of the Islamic book.
“In 1783, we finished the American Revolution and in 1784, we had to deal with Muslim terrorists attacking Americans,” said Barton, referring to the Barbary pirates.
He explained how Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were all designated to negotiate with Muslim representatives in Europe and attempt to halt the fighting. Eventually, Adams and Jefferson had an opportunity to question a Muslim ambassador as to why Islamic forces were attacking Americans.
“They asked him a very pointed question,” said Barton. “They said, ‘We don’t understand why you’re attacking us. Americans have never done anything to Muslims. We’ve never bothered your nations. Why the unprovoked attacks?’
“And the Muslim ambassador answered them, they wrote it down, they sent it to the State Department, still there, you can see the letter to this day. And Jefferson records, ‘They attack us because that’s what their Quran requires.’ Their Quran requires that we as infidels must be subdued, they have to enslave us, they have to attack us, and if they get killed while attacking us that’s their straight ticket to heaven. And Adams and Jefferson kind of go, ‘You’re kidding me. You go to heaven if you kill people?'”
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Barton says both Jefferson and Adams investigated the Islamic faith for themselves.
“Jefferson and Adams both got Qurans,” he said. “They read the Quran for themselves to see how this enemy thought. Today, we don’t encourage people to read the Quran. We just tell people it’s a religion of peace. ‘But don’t read the Quran for yourself,’ we tell them.”
Thomas Jefferson would go on to order a military expedition against the Barbary pirates as the third president of the United States. And though little remembered today, America’s first fight with Islamic terrorists represented a huge challenge for the young republic.
“It is significant that when Jefferson became president, 15 percent of the federal budget was being spent in trying to mollify Islamic radicals,” explained Barton. “They had been negotiating for years, it wasn’t working, so he takes the Navy, loads up the Marines on the ships, and for five years they go through Benghazi and Tripoli, just squashing Islamic terrorists.
“From the beginning we knew that Islam was not a religion of peace because it reigned by the sword. Wherever Islam was dominating, you had conflict and fighting. All you have to do is look at the Islamic nations around the Mediterranean now, see if they are nations of peace. It’s not a religion of peace. And Jefferson recognized that.”
Barton also revealed the first American edition of the Quran was printed during Jefferson’s administration. He joked the preface was not exactly what one would call politically correct.
“In the preface it says: ‘Reader, when you read the absurdities contained in this book, you’ll wonder that these absurdities have affected so great a part of the world.’ When you read the Quran for yourself, you’ll understand why these guys are so crazy and why we have to fight them. That’s not the religion of peace and that came out of the Jefferson administration. That’s exactly opposite to what President Obama said about Jefferson when he talked at the mosque in Baltimore.”
Still, Barton said the incident reflects the larger progressive tactic of selectively using the Founding Fathers while ignoring the principles men like Jefferson defended.
“They hate history,” Barton said of liberals. “They don’t like history. They don’t like the beliefs of the Founders. They want to move on from that. ‘We’ve evolved past the Constitution.’ They like a living Constitution. They choose justices who give us a living Constitution. They keep reading things into it.
“They hate the Founding Fathers until they want to move a philosophy that’s not real popular and then suddenly they invoke the Founding Fathers to give them authority and credibility.”
Specifically, Barton slammed what he called the progressive abuse of a phrase Jefferson included in a letter to a group of pastors, “the separation of church and state.”
“If you look at Jefferson, he worked his tail off to make sure that religious expression was part of the society,” Barton said. “But progressives, they don’t like religion, they don’t like it being part of society so they take eight words out of a 200-word Jefferson letter and say, ‘Oh, Jefferson said there should be a wall of separation between church and state and we have to follow what Thomas Jefferson said.’ And so then they start going through now 4,000 cases the courts have decided where they use these eight words [as an authority.] They won’t use his letter, but Jefferson’s the authority for why kids can’t say ‘God’ at graduation. Exactly the opposite of what he intended.”
To correct such abuses of history, Barton wrote “The Jefferson Lies.” And Barton said the only way to guard against progressives’ abuse of the past is for Americans to be aware of their true history.
“We see that time and time again,” said Barton. “We have President Obama, who does not like the Founding Fathers, doesn’t like what they stand for, but when he finds it advantageous he goes to a mosque in Baltimore and suddenly cites Thomas Jefferson as an authority on how Jefferson was so pro-Islamic and so pro-Muslim. Another distortion of history. That’s not where Jefferson was.
“It’s interesting that they hate the guy but they want to cite him when they feel like they don’t have enough moral authority on their own to move a radical doctrine forward. They’ll say, ‘Oh, come here, Founding Father, we need you to say something for us’ and they twist it so it’s exactly the opposite of what the Founders intended, particularly Thomas Jefferson.”