Speaking at the White House conference on “Countering Violent Extremism,” President Obama tried to explain his refusal to make any connections between Islam and terrorism.
“Leading up to this summit there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge, so I want to be very clear about how I see it,” the president said. “Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam.”
But “we must never accept the premise that they put forward because it is a lie,” he said. Those who lead the Islamic State and Al Qaeda “are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.”
There’s something to that. But when just about everyone else, including his allies in the media, are calling Islamic terrorism by its name, the president comes off as weak; his words sound insipid and bland.
And it’s not only his political opponents who find his explanation unconvincing.
“You cannot defeat an enemy that you do not admit exists.” It wasn’t Rush Limbaugh or Ted Cruz who said that. It was Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014.
Flynn told a House hearing that, “I really, really strongly believe that the American public needs and wants moral, intellectual and really strategic clarity and courage on this threat.”
But while the president bends over backwards not to offend moderate Muslims, both here at home and in the Arab world, he’s doing a pretty good job offending a lot of other people.
When a Muslim stormed a kosher market in Paris, telling a local TV station that he was “targeting Jews,” Barack Obama spoke of “violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
But it wasn’t simply “a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.” It was Jewish people shopping for the Friday night Sabbath. And they weren’t “randomly shot.” They were targeted because they were Jewish.
And when thugs from the Islamic State cut the heads off of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who went to Libya to find work – and did it on camera — the president’s spokesman, Josh Earnest issued a statement condemning the violence against those Egyptian “citizens.” He couldn’t bring himself to call them Christians – even though that’s why they were murdered. It wasn’t because they were Egyptians. It was because they were “people of the cross,” as one of the Islamic State murderers said.
(Later, after the furor over Earnest’s pathetic description, President Obama in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times stated the obvious – that the beheaded men were Christians.)
What President Obama either doesn’t understand or just won’t say out loud is that they don’t call it the Islamic State for nothing. As a piece in Atlantic magazine put it, “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers … but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
So why can’t President Obama walk and chew gum at the same time? Why can’t he hold two distinct thoughts in his head simultaneously? Why can’t he acknowledge that while most Muslims aren’t savages, some Muslims are. And there is something in their reading of Islam that justifies, in their twisted minds, the mayhem they commit.
Islam, whether President Obama likes it or not, is not simply an innocent bystander in all of this.
At some level, the president may know it. But that’s not enough. He also needs to speak it.