Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday that the roots of radical Islam are the biblical conflict between Jacob and Esau.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, the former pediatric neurosurgeon argued that the origins of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are the fight between two brothers described in the book of Genesis.
"Well first of all you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years. Really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau," he said. "But it has been a land issue for a very long period of time."
Hewitt, who has a penchant for grilling Republican candidates in detail about foreign policy, pushed back at the comparison, noting that the prophet Muhammad died in 632, while the story of Jacob and Esau is from before the birth of Christ.
"The Islamic faith emanated from Esau," Carson countered.
Another set of siblings described in the book of Genesis — Isaac and Ishmael — are more frequently described as the respective forefathers of Judaism and Islam.
Carson also said that he thinks the warring factions of Sunni and Shia Islam will one day unite against the United States.
"In the long run I think they would gladly unite against us in their attempts to destroy the United States., our way of life, and Israel," Carson said, espousing a position viewed dimly by foreign policy experts.
Carson's White House bid stems largely from his public speaking ability and willingness to challenge President Obama on the Affordable Care Act at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. But he has a long history of controversial statements, being forced earlier this month to apologize for saying homosexuality is a choice and that prison makes people gay.
But his support is already eroding as other presidential contenders enter the field.
Here's a transcript of Carson and Hewitt discussing ISIS and Islamic extremism:
Hewitt: I don’t do ambush interviews, but I do believe that the most important job of the president is national security and defense related. Are you prepared to talk about some of those issues with me today?
Hewitt: First question, and I always ask every candidate. Have you had a chance to read the Lawrence Wright book called The Looming Tower, which is sort of the history of al Qaeda and where it comes from?
Carson: I’ve not read that particular one, but I’ve had a chance to look at a lot of material not only on al Qaeda but the radical Islamic movement in general. The kinds of things that motivate and drive them.
Hewitt: What do you consider to be their taproot? What is the origin of their rage in your view?
Carson: Well first of all you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years. Really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau. But it has been a land issue for a very long period of time. Possession is very important to them and one of the things that we’re doing I think incorrectly right now is not recognizing that they are expanding their territory. Not only the land that they’ve taken in Iraq, but what they’ve taken in Syria. They are creating an Islamic State. And we can bomb it all we want, but unless we actually can take the land back, we’re really not doing them any damage.
Hewitt: But Dr. Carson, Muhammad lives in 632 A.D., so it’s a 1,300, 1,400 year old religion. How do you go back to Jacob and Esau, which are B.C.?
Carson: I’m just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years. This is not anything new is what I’m saying.
Hewitt: So it’s not specific to the Islamic faith or to the Salafist offshoot of the Islamic faith?
Carson: The Islamic faith emanated from Esau.
Hewitt: I would date it to 632, but you’ve got a biblical connection here that some people may share with you, but I think scholars dispute. I gather that. Let me ask you though in the current manifestation of the Islamic State, what is driving them to act as they are acting? Is it a particular variant of the Koran? What is it that you think animates their barbarism?
Carson: I believe first of all that they believe that they are the possessors of right and because of that anything that is in disagreement with them is wrong and needs to be destroyed. And whatever mechanism they use to destroy it is okay. And that includes some of the things that appear to be very barbaric acts: chopping off people’s heads, burning them. It doesn’t matter because they are infidels.