Some pundits are making a fuss about the words that President Obama chooses not to use while talking about jihadists who commit acts of terrorism. For example, on the February 18th edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly states the following:
“As you may know, President Obama is a reluctant warrior, not willing to define the jihadist atrocities as anything other than criminal actions. The President does not even use the words “Islamic terrorism” for fear of offending good Muslims around the world.
Now, some of you believe Mr. Obama is a Muslim sympathizer. Others on the far right even say he’s an actual Muslim. There is absolutely no evidence to back that up.”
Could there be a legitimate reason for President Obama refusing to use words that would equate jihadist terrorists with Islam?
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Sunday that President Obama’s decision not to say the actions of the Islamic State is a form of “radical Islam” is at the behest of the Muslim community.
“The thing I hear from leaders in the Muslim community in this country is ISIL is attempting to hijack my religion,” Johnson told “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the terror group also known as Islamic State, or ISIS.
Johnson said the leaders argue their religion is about peace and brotherhood and “resent” that Islamic State is “attempting to hijack that from us.”
Real Clear Politics Washington bureau chief Carl M. Cannon writes the following:
The president has said that ISIS, which kills in the name of Mohammed, “is not Islamic.” That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what the first “I” in ISIS stands for. It means he’s appealing to the rest of the Muslim world not to follow ISIS, but instead to listen to what Abraham Lincoln called their “better angels.” In this regard Obama is echoing his predecessor.
“We are not at war with Islam,” Obama said at a White House conference on combating “violent extremism.” “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” After 9/11, Bush put it this way: “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”
Whether effective or not, there is a rationale behind such talk.
In a commentary published by the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria writes the following:
“But far from being a scholar concerned with describing the phenomenon accurately, the president is deliberately choosing not to emphasize the Islamic State’s religious dimension for political and strategic reasons. After all, what would be the practical consequence of describing the group, also known as ISIS, as Islamic? Would the West drop more bombs on it? Send in more soldiers to fight it? No, but it would make many Muslims feel that their religion had been unfairly maligned. And it would dishearten Muslim leaders who have continually denounced the Islamic State as a group that does not represent Islam.
In a commentary published by Politico Magazine, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba states the following:
“In one of the most effective approaches in this battle of ideas, Muslim leaders are directly confronting and discrediting the extremists who cloak their radical ideas and violent actions in the language of Islam. While often drowned out in US and European media, influential clerics are forcefully speaking out in the region for moderation and tolerance, developing new religious texts and helping to train a new generation of imams.
To be clear, this is not a war between Muslims and non-Muslims or past versus the present, but between very distinct visions of the modern world. Extremists imagine a past that never existed and a future that will never happen.”
To be fair to his critics, President Obama has gone overboard while defending the legitimate place that peaceful Muslims have in U.S. society, and he has been foolish when describing who the jihadist terrorists have targeted and why.
Yet, it would be an error to repeatedly stress the link that the terrorists have with Islam when all Islam isn’t at war against the USA or against modern western society. As Bill O’Reilly said on his show, “Most Muslims don’t accept the fundamentalist view of the Koran.”
Inciting hatred toward all Muslims would simply feed the flawed ideology of the jihadists. Like his immediate predecessor, President Obama is right to not feed the enemy.