Sean Hannity misconstrued comments and ignored important context while critiquing President Obama's June 17 remarks on the struggle for peace, accusing the president of expressing hostility toward the Catholic school system in America while referencing Obama's education as a youth at “a Muslim school.” Hannity's assertion is the most recent in a long line of attempts to gin up outrage amongst Catholics against Obama.
On the June 20 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Hannity claimed Obama “appears to compare segregation to the Catholic school system,” while guest Ann Coulter accused the president of “attacking America while he's abroad.”
On June 17, during a town hall meeting in Belfast, Ireland in front of the youth of Northern Ireland, Obama spoke of the importance of “breaking down the divisions that we create for ourselves”:
Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity -- symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others -- these are not tangential to peace; they're essential to it. If towns remain divided -- if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs -- if we can't see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.
Ultimately, peace is just not about politics. It's about attitudes; about a sense of empathy; about breaking down the divisions that we create for ourselves in our own minds and our own hearts that don't exist in any objective reality, but that we carry with us generation after generation.
Hannity's critique of Obama's comments ignore crucial context regarding the president's speech and location. As Michael McGough of The Los Angeles Times wrote:
Northern Ireland is not the United States. Even in my childhood, when Catholic kids were encouraged to attend Catholic schools and there was an arguably Protestant ethos in many public schools, Catholics and Protestants weren't as isolated from (or as distrustful of) one another in this country as they continue to be in Northern Ireland.
Society in Northern Ireland is much more stratified, and the role of religiously defined schools more problematic. You can be perfectly comfortable with the role of Catholic schools in the American context and worry about their contribution to estrangement between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Additionally, Northern Ireland has a long history of violence between Catholics and Protestants. Over a 30 year period in the 1970's, 80's and 90's, more than 3,500 people were killed and thousands more injured as a result of conflict between Catholic Irish nationalists and Britain Loyalist Protestants.
In May 1998 Northern Ireland voters approved two referendums that would become known as the Good Friday Agreement, which helped bring an end to the violent struggle between the two parties and whose 15 year anniversary was noted by Obama in his speech. The agreement created a government body that was to include both Catholics and Protestants, called for disarmament as well as the release of jailed combatants, and forced a reorganization of a police force which, at the time, was 93 percent Protestant.
Hannity went on to criticize the president's comparison of the U.S. Civil War to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Hannity focused on a segment of the speech in which Obama said “Our Civil War was far shorter than The Troubles, but it killed hundreds of thousands of our people.” Obama's comment on “The Troubles” is a reference to the period beginning in 1969 that resulted in violence against the Catholic community. According to a 2006 BBC article, throughout the 70's. 80's and 90's “Loyalist paramilitaries targeted Catholics in 'tit-for-tat' killings” in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, “The Troubles” were the culmination of constant revolts beginning in the 12th century and leading to “civil war and partition of the island.”
Hannity then highlighted Obama's 2007 interview with The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, in which the president described the Arabic call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset” and highlighted Obama's education at Islamic schools during his youth.
In their June publication, Playboy Magazine published an interview with Hannity in which he was asked if he was “fueling the myth that Obama's a Muslim from Africa” by referring to his time in Africa as a youth:
PLAYBOY: Trump was one of the most vocal skeptics of Obama's American citizenship. You've also said Obama grew up in Kenya. Do you regret saying that now?
HANNITY: But he did grow up in Kenya, and he told The New York Times that he went to a school there and one of the most beautiful things on the planet is Islamic prayer at sunset.
PLAYBOY: Are you fueling the myth that Obama's a Muslim from Africa by saying that?
HANNITY: I never fueled the myth. How do you come up with this stuff? He did go to a Muslim school. He writes about it in his own book.
PLAYBOY: He did not grow up in Kenya.
HANNITY: He went to a Muslim school in Indonesia, or wherever it was, Kenya. I forget. Now you've got me. I think it was Indonesia. I'm trying to remember his biography. It's going back so long. He admits he went to a Muslim school. It's on his audiobook, if you want a tape of it--you can hear him say it himself.
I'm a Christian. All people are the children of God. I'm just telling you what Obama said in his own words. He didn't go to a madrassa, which has negative connotations, but he did study the Koran and Islam and learn prayers that he could recite with a perfect accent, according to Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. As for the issue of his birth certificate, I thought that was one of the oddest things, a noncontroversy that the White House easily could have ended but didn't. If you've got the birth certificate, just release it and move on. That's what I said.