During the Bush years, the United States waged a “war on terrorism”. President Obama ended the war on terrorism, and we have taken a more or less spectator’s position watching “extremists” devour the land we left behind like a plague of locusts hellbent on leaving the barren crags of the Middle East to swarm the fertile fields of Western Civilization.
President Bush boldly called them terrorists. President Obama circumspectly calls them extremists. Which one is right?
Both, but more significantly, neither! Yes, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and now ISIS (or ISL) are extremists and terrorists, but they are more than that. We cannot effectively fight them (or moderate them depending on your perspective) without accurately defining them.
Avoiding the plain truth creates confusion and diverts attention from the real issues that must be addressed. People in certain politically correct circles shy away, or are repulsed away, our current administration in Washington included, from terms like “radical Islam”. Make no mistake, however, our definitions and images of what we are dealing with affect our ability to deal with those things effectively.
The current tactic is to act as if the truth is misogynistic, intolerant and phobic. Meanwhile, ISIS mocks us with threats of flying their flag in the White House as they behead, burn and crucify their way to international infamy. Others are not shy at all to label the terrorists and call for their heads (figuratively speaking), but the cowboy mentality of the Bush administration is not the answer either. It did not endear us to most of the world (not that there is any way of endearing the Great Satan to Radical Islam).
We cannot stir up a hornets nest without getting stung. The backlash is felt from the Middle East to the White House. We went through almost 8 years of a War on Terror and now 6 years seemingly apologizing for it.
We are a nation divided by ambivalence and angst over how to respond to the repeated and recurring acts of evil perpetrated by the likes of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS in various places around the world. Twenty somethings have endured the images of this war their entire lives, but we struggle to define it. (Can there be any doubt it is a war?) Some call it terrorism, while others call it extremism. Some look uncomfortably away, unable or unwilling to give it a name.
Our struggle to label ISIS and its kin is an ideological dilemma. In the world in which the prevailing academic view is tolerance and diversity, we label the enemy “extremists”. The extremist label seems to be a reflex action from the more guttural stance of other decent Americans who are not shy about their beliefs and calling the enemy “terrorists”. The label “terrorists”, however, also fails to recognize what we are dealing with. In the battle over our own ideological turf, we are wholly missing the mark.
Many people wish that we lived in a world that John Lennon memorialized in song: where there is no heaven or hell and people live for today; where there are no countries and no religion and nothing to kill for. But, this is not the world we live in.
For one thing, Imagine is an uniquely western song expressing sentiments that are Western and not shared by the majority of the world. But more importantly, ideas really do matter. Ideas drive the Obama administration as surely as they drove the Bush administration and as surely as they drive ISIS.
I focus on the current administration only because they currently captain the ship, so please excuse me as I call out the President for being euphemistic in labeling the acts of ISIS “extremism”. It is not help to label ISIS and Westboro Baptists and other fringe groups extremists, as if one size fits all.
ISIS has no problem telling us exactly who they are so why should we shrink back from it: they are Muslims, followers of Allah. Yes, they are radical and extreme, but Islam is their flag.
I can almost hear the audible gasp.
We seem to have a problem accepting ISIS for who they say they are. We don’t want to offend the peaceful Muslims and lump them in. To be perfectly pointed, however, they are radical Islamists, and radical Islamism is responsible for the barbaric acts that are becoming routine images of modern life, both pre-911 and post-911.
In this present time, it is not radical Christians, radical Hindus or even radical atheists who are the source of a pattern of abject and barbaric acts around the world: radical Islam is the culprit.
And it is not just ISIS. The president focuses on geographical areas of conflict, like Northern Syria and western Iraq, as if ISIS is an isolated aberration, but Radical Islam is not limited to those areas. Boka Haram in Nigeria killed more people in 2014 than the Ebola virus. Radical Islamists stormed an office in France and killed twelve people just for publishing cartoons. Similar groups exist in the Philippines, Palestine, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and are even reported to have camps in the US. Over 1000 people who are involved in ISIS came from France. Over 600 came from Great Britain. Over 200 came from the United States.
When Nidal Malik Hasan killed 40 people on an Army base in Texas where he served as a psychiatrist, we hesitated to call it terrorism and struggled to define his actions as related to stress. (NY Times Summary of Coverage) Hasan was not shy and taunted prosecutors and jurors to give him the martyrdom he wanted in the name of Allah. (NY Times 8-29-2013)
When Alton Nolan beheaded a co-worker in a “violent rampage” in Oklahoma, we called it “workplace violence”, avoiding the obvious. He was a recent convert to Islam. It was reported that he “snapped” after being fired. (NY Post 9-30-2014) The rest of the story is this: he tried converting his co-workers to Islam; he had photos of Bin Laden and ISIS on his Facebook page; and he shouted “Islamic phrases during the bloodbath.” (NY Post 9-26-2014)
There is a theme here. Radical Islamists make no bones about their aim, which is to convert people or kill them. They are not shy in declaring that their enemies include Western civilization, moderate Muslims, Christians and the United States, in particular.
They are not equivocal about their ends or the means they will employ to gain those ends. Why are we so apologetic about condemning them for who they are?
Suicide bombings and beheadings are not Rotary Club conspiracies. They are part of one common pattern occurring everywhere around the globe: radical Islamists hate modern civilization and are determined to impose their radical religion by force.
Where is the confusion?
I kind of get it. We all hope they will just crawl back into the caves we like to think they emerged from. We do not want to sweep too broadly and condemn moderate Muslims who do not practice jihad and who are willing to tolerate us. We want to show that we are accepting of non-Christians and other cultures.
One problem with that is that they did not crawl out of caves. Many of them are middle or upper class and well-educated with university and doctoral degrees. They include doctors and men of wealth. They are largely from middle and upper class backgrounds. “It turns out that “Islamist terrorism is mostly a pursuit of the middle class….”(Nonsense about Terrorism’s Root Causes, by Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst). Repeated studies have proved this point, Osama Bin Laden being only one example of many.
They fly in and out of the countries in the west, including our own United States. They are sophisticated in their use of technology and even their knowledge of the western world. They use it to convert extremists from our own communities.
I just returned from New York City where I visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. One of the most vivid images that remains in my mind is the electronic map showing the travels in and out and around the United States of the men who calmly boarded four planes and used them as weapons of mass destruction right where we live on an average, sunny day in September 14 years ago.
This enemy that we face might live next door or down the street. They might be shopping in our grocery stores right now or sitting next to us on the train. They are not isolated to the deserts and barren fringes of the world.
I do understand the need to be circumspect. We cannot live in fear and suspicion. The Obama administration has purposely chosen a different course from the cowboy-like bravado and gun slinging posture of the Bush administration. Frankly, that made me uncomfortable too. It was not the moral certainty of the Bush campaign that bothered me; it was the bull-in-the-China shop execution of it. A little more tact and diplomacy in a world that views us as the “Great Satan” is required.
In this present administration, however, we have abandoned the moral certainty. We are apologetic. We are weak in our condemnation of what is most certainly as evil as any movement in history. We are reluctant to identify the real culprit. The President calls them “extremists” as if one extremist is the same as another. Vegan’s, Pro-lifers, the National Organization of Women, Westboro Baptists and Green Peace are all extremists. Calling ISIS extremists is not helpful.
As much as individual people may oppose the views of these other people who hold to the extremes on the ideological spectrum, these extremists are not beheading, crucifying and burning people to death the people who do not share their views. Calling ISIS “extremists” is, frankly, offensive to anyone with strong principles.
It is not the fact that they have principles, but the principles, themselves, that are the problem.
So, let us be honest: there can be no question that radical Islam is the culprit. “[T]he people running these organizations are in it for ideological reasons.” (Nonsense about Terrorism’s Root Causes) They are not shy in telling us exactly what they are; why are we reluctant to take them at their word? The threat of radical Islam is potent and insidious. They mean us harm, and they have proven their willingness to carry out their intent.
Other extremists still function as members of society. They may engage in a war of words, but they are not killing people. Other than the crazy person who breaks ranks and goes off the ranch, even the most radical groups are not killing people on a regular basis. The most extreme extremists are not using terror as an open, stated means to their ends, with the obvious exception of radical Muslims.
Radical Islam lives off the ranch. Fundamentally it can not be assimilated into our melting pot paradigm. They reject that paradigm and pledge their allegiance to a different government. Their allegiance to Allah requires the overthrow of our government, our way of life and everything that stands counter to it.
Are we afraid that someone might confuse who are we talking about when we target our condemnation at radical Islam? “Indeed, while ISIS and like-minded groups and their fellow travelers are not representative of the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, their ideology is rooted in Salafist ultra-fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, and indeed they can point to verses in the Quran that can be interpreted to support their worldview.” (Nonsense about Terrorism’s Root Causes) We cannot sweep under the rug the fact that Islamist ideology is at the root of the terrorism we see in the world today.
When the President says that he does not want to call ISIS Muslim, he is ignoring the obvious, and it does not help to address the problem. Peter Bergen urges that the solution must come within the Muslim community, itself, because the problem is rooted in Muslim ideology and theology. Pretending that it is not casts the light of scrutiny and moral efficacy in the wrong direction.
Likening the current Islamic terrorism to the Crusades is not only bad history, it is counterproductive. The Crusades are not a shining example of brotherly love, but the Crusades were initiatives against the advancing tide of Islamic expansion that is reminiscent of the currently stated goals of ISIS to convert the world to Islam. It is counterproductive because the moral weight of the world needs to be directed at the “moderate” Muslims to set a clear standard that Islamic ideology and theology does not tolerate the radical element. We in the Christian west really have no business telling the world what is genuine Islam and what is not; the worldwide community of Islam can only set that matter straight, and they have been conspicuously silent.
Words are important. We need to be perfectly clear in directing our focus on the real enemy. Bergen is not the lone voice in the wilderness. Muslims are waking to the reality that they are critical to the solution. In this piece, Will It Take The End of the World For Obama To Recognize ISIS?, Asra Q. Nomani, a self-described moderate Muslim, says what needs to be spoken. We need to stop tap dancing around the problem:
At the White House summit on “countering violent extremism,” President Obama declared that violent jihad in the name of Islam isn’t the work of “religious leaders” but rather “terrorists.” American-Muslim leaders, attending the summit, cheered and applauded, later taking selfies in front of the president’s seal.
But, as liberal Muslim feminist journalists who reject the vision of the Islamic State, we can say that the Islamic State, al Qaeda and the alphabet soup of Islamic militant groups… rely very much on the scholarship of “religious leaders,” from Ibn Tamiyyah in the 14th century to Sayyid Qutb in the 20th century, who very much have credibility and authority among too many Muslims as “religious leaders.”
She says it much better than I could: “Doing a verbal tap dance around Islamic theology and extremism, even calling it “whatever ideology,” Obama and his policy team have it completely wrong. We have to own the issue of extremist Islamic theology in order to defeat it and remove it from our world. We have to name it to tame it.”
We must place blame where the blame lies, and we need the Muslim world to stand up and own it. Others are starting, daring, to say the same thing, but they are taking a beating in from more mainstream ideologues. Graeme Wood in What ISIS Really Wants hits the nail on the head. He boldly answers the questions that most people seem unwilling or unable to answer – What is the Islamic State and where did it come from?
“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.”
Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
Wood goes on to provide intimate detail of the Islamic doctrines, history and connection among all of the radical Islamic groups that make up all the Islamic terror groups in the world. The connection is ideological and theological. The war we engage in is an ideological, theological battle with worldwide consequences. The majority of moderate Muslims are in the best position to fight that battle, but they seem unable or unwilling to mobilize against these groups who use their same texts, and history and connection to inspire and convert and carry out the radical jihad that threatens to tip the world into an apocalyptic showdown.
Pretending they do not exist and they are not what they say they are is not the way to win this fight.