The Obama administration this week continued its ill-advised trend of trying to separate groups like the Islamic State from the religion they are named after. At a coalition conference in Rome, Secretary of State John Kerry said that ISIS had nothing to do with Islam.
“Daesh [ISIS] is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves,” Kerry said. “And they are also above all apostates – people who have hijacked a great religion and lie about its real meaning and lie about its purpose and deceive people in order to fight for their purposes.”
Funny, isn’t it, how this wondrous, flawless religion has proven to be so easy for terrorists to “hijack.” Why is it that we seldom see killers and kidnappers use radical Christianity to draw others to their murderous cause? Where is the Buddhist equivalent to Al Qaeda? Why is it, again and again, Islam that criminals use to disguise their secular motives?
Few Republican presidential candidates have outlined a plan to defeat ISIS that differs drastically from Obama’s, but they have all criticized him for his refusal to call Islamic terrorism by its true name. To some, using that term gives ISIS a kind of unearned legitimacy and inspires moderate Muslims to join them. But even to those who don’t buy that argument, it’s hard to see how using one adjective over another does anything to keep us safer. Shouldn’t we focus more on military solutions and less on linguistic debates?
Unfortunately, while Republicans have done a nice job pointing out Obama’s avoidance of the term, they haven’t really explained why it matters. Instead, we hear various versions of an argument that goes something like this: How can we defeat an enemy if we don’t call it what it is? That sentiment sounds good on a debate stage – wise, even – but it breaks down under any serious examination. Does our military strategy change significantly according to our enemy’s name? Call it Islamic terrorism, call it radical extremism, call it happy rainbow hopscotch – what difference does it really make?
Well, it actually makes a big difference. When we act like ISIS uses Islam like Charlie Crist uses party affiliation, we are dooming ourselves to fight an endless war. ISIS can be defeated with military force, but the ideology behind them will not die with their caliphate. It won’t die under a stable Syrian government. It won’t die with the closing of Guantanamo Bay. It won’t die after we remove every last soldier from Saudi Arabia. Why? Because this ideology is not built upon capturing territory or opposing American imperialism. Those goals are incidental to a system of core beliefs that begin and end with religion.
Yes, we can and we must draw distinctions between Islamic terrorists and Muslims who reject the radical strains of their religion. But when Democrats gets up and pretend that they are authorities on what is and is not the true nature of Islam, they set us up for failure. The Obama administration is peddling propaganda by mischaracterizing ISIS the same way ISIS mischaracterizes the U.S. Liberal academics eat that propaganda up like ice cream, but it won’t get us any closer to eradicating this sick, violent ideology. For that, we need a tool more powerful than even the most devastating bomb. We need, simply, the truth.