The conference this week on “Countering Violent Extremism,” hosted by the White House and attended by President Obama represents the triumph of semantics over substance. Foregoing the lesser methods of uncomfortable positioning and waterboarding, the Obama administration has gone straight for the rack and the iron maiden in its efforts to torture logic and ignore the obvious. In what must be one of the dumbest assertions made in recent memory, the President has taken the position that the Islamic State isn’t Islamic, using an argument that amounts to nothing more than a theological declaration.
What we are witnessing is nothing less than the complete liberal politicization of our national security. What I mean by that is not that we have allowed politics to dictate our foreign policy – it always has and always will; foreign policy decisions are political decisions – but that we have completely subordinated the national security priority of making America safe to the domestic priority of political correctness. The White House would rather not potentially offend some Muslims, either at home or abroad, then take an honest look at the root causes behind the extremist violence that represents a significant security threat to the United States and the world.
The difference between semantics and substance is the difference between the trivial and the profound. Unfortunately Obama and the administration have confused semantics and substance, with the result that they focus on the trivial while ignoring the profound. Calling the Islamic State and Islamic terrorism what they are isn’t merely semantics. It is substance. Understanding the nature of one’s enemy, its motives and its goals is paramount to understanding how to defeat it. If you cannot acknowledge that the violence coming from groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS is motivated by Islam, then you cannot be serious about finding the most effective means to stop them.
Violent extremism is a non-term, an all-encompassing category which is meaningless in the context of identifying, analyzing and solving the real threats to the United States and to Western civilization. All violent extremism is not equally threatening to national security. There are white supremacists on isolated compounds. There are death cults like Aum Shinrikyo. There are even, as Dean Obeidallah, has reminded us, Christians employing extremist, terroristic violence in some parts of the world. However, none of these groups, though they are all violent extremists, represent a threat to the world order the way that Islamic extremists do.
The Obama administrations steadfast refusal to acknowledge that cold reality is farcical. We have now reached a point where the President of the United States has decided to weigh in on the theological issue of who is and who is not a Muslim. According to White House policy, the President of the United States has the ability and authority to decide to what religion a person belongs based upon whether the President thinks that person’s ideology reflects the “true” values of that religion. Thus, he has decided and declared the Islamic State not to be Islamic because, in his words, “[t]hey are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.” Where Obama gets the notion that being a religious leader and a terrorist are mutually exclusive is never made clear, probably because such an idea is ridiculous. He does cite a few passages from the Koran in defense of his assertion, but in doing so only demonstrates that he has not read the text or, if he has, has utterly failed to understand it. He has also, as Graeme Wood, writing the Atlantic, so eloquently demonstrated, failed to grasp that the people he accuses of not being Muslims are, in fact, fully steeped in the Koran and have studied it extensively.
And this is a key point. Obama’s facile understanding of the Koran has led him to determine (or at least declare) that ISIL is not comprised of Muslims. In doing so, he has taken an active step to say that understanding their interpretation of the Koran and what it means is fundamentally not important to defeating them. After all, if they are merely “violent extremists” who are not truly Islamic and not motivated by Islam, then understanding Islam is probably not very relevant to understanding how to defeat them.
The problem is that nothing could be further from the truth. When Obama says the following, he does so from a place of profound ignorance:
“These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice and tolerance toward others, that terrorism is prohibited, that the Koran says, ‘Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.’” “Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.”
When Obama refers to innocents, he is referring to innocents as he, a liberal American sees innocents (i.e. people who have not done anything). And, indeed, if the Islamic State agreed with Obama that the people it is murdering are innocents, then they would be violating their faith. However, the fundamental problem is that ISIS does not view the people it is killing as innocents. It rejects, out of hand, Obama’s premise. Under ISIS’ interpretation of Islam, the people it is killing are guilty of crimes against God, and therefore must be exterminated. But because Obama only wants to acknowledge Muslims who are in general agreement with his worldview, he fails to grasp this basic fact.
Acknowledging the fact that ISIS is comprised of Islamic fundamentalist/terrorists is simply an acknowledgement of reality. While it may be uncomfortable to speak about such things, it is necessary. Understanding an enemy’s motivations is paramount to understanding how to defeat it. Tying an arm behind your back in a fight because the truth is ugly won’t change the truth – it will simply make you more likely to lose. Just as it would be a monumental mistake to tar all of Islam with ISIS, it is a terrible idea to run to the opposite extreme and say that they are unrelated.