President Obama has been playing some delicate word games regarding recent atrocities committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. In a recent interview with Vox, he described the slaughtering of Jews in a Paris kosher supermarket as an act of “random” violence. Which was a flat-out lie, and a lie he told for political reasons. David Frum says journalists who refer to the president’s word choice as a “gaffe” are missing something important:
I think all this is very wrong. President Obama’s choice of words in his Vox interview in no way constituted a gaffe. He spoke about the Charlie Hebdo attack in a way consistent with the way he has spoken in the past—and for reasons integral to his administration’s distinctive approach to terrorism. President Obama described the Paris attack as random not in order to conceal the Jewishness of the victims. He described the attack as random because, for deeply considered reasons, he did not wish to acknowledge the anti-Jewish ideology of the assailants.
The Obama people, not being idiots, understand very well that international terrorism possesses an overwhelmingly Muslim character. In Europe, where attention is so focused now, the great majority of the most lethal terrorist incidents of the past 15 years have been carried out by people professing to act from Islamist motives. The huge effort made to deny this truth is its most ironic confirmation.
In dealing with this threat, the Obama administration has confronted a pair of difficult questions: What exactly is the nature of the threat? What are we trying to contain? This is a surprisingly difficult and contentious issue, and governments across the Western world have wrangled over it since 9/11.
The 9/11 Commission Report — the one that the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration are continuing to redact 28 pages from — said clearly that in order to fight the threat, we have to be willing to name it, to call it by its religious content, which is Islamic. That is not to demean all Muslims as terrorists. But it is to point out what is plainly the truth: that almost all terrorists in the world today are Muslims.
Take a closer look for example at another much-discussed recent statement by President Obama about terrorism, his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. The president’s claim that “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ” ignited a major ruckus. The fuss obscured something more remarkable in the speech, which is that there was no bookend reference to “terrible deeds in the name of Islam.” Instead, in every place where the word “Islam” might have been expected, the word “religion” was substituted. Thus, “we see a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.” Thus, “we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion—any religion—for their own nihilistic ends.” Thus, most strikingly, the group that calls itself the Islamic State, referred to only by the acronym ISIL, is condemned as a “a brutal, vicious death cult” that “carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism,” and does so “in the name of religion.”
When mention of the Islamic inspirations of terrorists becomes truly inescapable, administration spokespersons will emphatically insist that their actions do not represent the true Islam. At times, the president has baldly claimed that “ISIL is not Islamic.” That locution soon collapsed of its own ludicrousness.
Here’s how the president described the mass execution of 21 Egyptian Christians, which ISIS said they killed because the men were Christian. From CBS:
The White House is being criticized for its statement over the beheadings of nearly two dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians at the hands of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-affiliated group in Libya.
The line that critics are pointing to is referring to the Christians as only Egyptian citizens.
“The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists,” the statement reads. “We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens.”
Fox News contributors George Will and Charles Krauthammer criticized the White House for not referring to the Egyptians as Christians.
“Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in the room where the White House semanticists meet every morning and figure out how they could probably make this announcement without offending those who did it. I think the phrase they should come up with is non-Islamic randomness,” Will said on Fox News Monday. “That would explain just about everything that they have to deal with, but it does – at this point, it is beyond burlesque, its pathological, it’s clinical their inability and unwillingness to say – to accurately describe things.”
It is pathological. It is disgusting. It is a lie. This administration and its State Department are more interested in appeasing Muslims than they are in calling the nature of this particular evil what it is. The ISIS goons say explicitly that in the name of Islam, they killed these Jews because they were Jews, and that they killed these Christians because they were Christians.
Our president finally got around to acknowledging
today yesterday that the murdered Egyptians were Christians. Hey, it’s a start.
UPDATE: Reader St. Louisan remarks:
It’s always beneficial to interpret others’ actions as charitably, extending the benefit of the doubt when evaluating motives (perhaps today more than most days). If I understand the Frum piece right, he’s identifying three reasons Pres Obama and his staff are using such vague terms:
1. A desire to avoid distinguishing “American/civilized” from “Islamic,” in deference to the Muslims who loyally serve or support the United States;
2. A desire to avoid implicitly agreeing with ISIS’ self-conception as the only true manifestation of Islam and rightful sovereign of all Muslims;
3. A desire to avoid language that might prevent forming ad hoc alliances with Muslim groups almost as extreme as ISIS but either less violent or more bribeable, who may be useful in isolating ISIS.
One might disagree with the prudence of any of these reasons of course, or argue that respect for the victims demands the casting aside of stratagems like Reasons 2 & 3. But to say “This administration and its State Department are more interested in appeasing Muslims than they are in calling the nature of this particular evil what it is” seems rather callous and unfair. I mean, is that really the only interpretation of the motives at play here? If someone you knew personally as a generally good, upright person worked at the White House and had sway in these decisions, would you not allow more room for charity in assessing their actions?
You may be right.
UPDATE.2: A related thing I worry about is that the government, in denying the explicitly religious aspect of the conflict, completely misreads the nature of the threat. You will have seen, maybe, the State Dept spokesman who said the other day that Libya needs a jobs program to fix the ISIS problem. These WEIRDoes simply cannot imagine that people would be motivated by something other than purely material concerns. ISIS is not lopping the heads off of Christians and blowing Jews away because they lack a 9-to-5 job and good health care. Most of the world lacks these things, but most of the world (including most Muslims) do not go around committing mass murder against others in the name of their religion or ideology.
UPDATE.3: More news on this front today. The White House is changing its tune somewhat:
[White House press secretary Josh] Earnest also addressed the flak that he and Obama have taken for not specifically mentioning the religion of the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded over the weekend.
Asked whether the religion of the victims is relevant, he answered: “It sure is.”
“The ISIL extremists that carried out this attack indicated that the reason they were killing them wasn’t just because they were Egyptian, but because they were Christian,” he said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.
“There’s a responsibility of people of all faiths to stand up and reach out when individuals try to use faith and distort space to try to justify an act of violence.”
Earnest also sparred with a reporter over why he didn’t mention the Egyptians’ religion in the first White House statement on the killings, while Obama’s statement on the recent murder of three North Carolina students, who were Muslim, mentions theirs. Earnest said that the North Carolina murders are still under investigation, but that the president felt it was important to “articulate a very clear principle” that people should not be targeted because of their religion.
President Obama offered an extended defense of his approach to countering violent extremism on Wednesday, saying those who have criticized his administration’s reluctance to single out the threat specifically posed by Muslim extremists are in danger of offering extremists the kind of legitimacy they crave.
“Al Qaeda, ISIL, and groups like it, are desperate for legitimacy,” he said. “We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grand these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders, they are terrorists.
“We are not at war with Islam,” he added. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
Well, no, we are not at war with Islam, and to be fair to the president, I’m not exactly sure what there is to be gained by telling the truth that we are at war with a strain of Islam, instead of these weasel words “violent extremists.” Still, the phony euphemisms grate. The grated when Bush used them (“war on terrorism”), and they grate when Obama uses them.