There Are No Islamic Terrorists! — Seriously?

If a thoughtful analysis of the worldview of ISIS indicates that they may be legitimately described as Islamic, why is it the Obama administration (and other pols/talking heads) takes such pains to avoid this language, referring to ISIS and like-minded organizations generically as “violent extremists” or “extremist terrorists”?

There are only two options. 1) They actually firmly believe that the adjective “Islamic” cannot properly be attributed to ISIS; or 2) They either don’t know one way or another, or do know for sure that ISIS really is an expression of Islam but have concluded that to acknowledge this would create more problems for the USA in the world of realpolitik than to continue to pretend otherwise.

In favor of option 1 is the fact that early on the administration adopted this view and has held consistently to it. Apparently knowing so little of the history, theology and practices of Islam, this administration (following sadly in the footsteps of the Bush administration) continues to parrot the simplistic canard that “Islam is a religion of peace.” Cowed by the self-appointed police of political correctness, our leaders shrink from attributing anything negative to Islam for fear of being labeled “Islamophobic.” If a man is determined to wear a blindfold, it comes as no surprise to discover that he cannot see. So our leaders convince themselves that they see nothing truly religious about the motives of ISIS, content to continue stumbling around in a self-imposed darkness. But why, when the evidence is so easy to come by, do our national leaders fail to do their homework, or at least listen to others who have done the work for them?

My best guess is this: as a culture we have become so secular, especially in the halls of political power, that many of our leaders have lost the capacity even to imagine that human beings could truly offer up their lives to an all-consuming, otherworldly religious commitment, and find compelling motivation in living so as to please their god. Instead, in trying to understand what makes ISIS tick, our leaders try to remake ISIS leaders in their own image. Any religious justification for ISIS actions must really be a smokescreen for what truly motivates these individuals: power, greed, recognition – precisely the kinds of earthly goals that motivate our own worldly leadership.

In support of this analysis I would point to the statements of two State Department spokeswomen, as well as that of President Obama, that what is needed to overcome the threat of ISIS is not overwhelming military force but the creation of a positive economic climate in these rogue nations leading to the creation of an abundance of jobs so as to undercut the “root cause” of terror groups like ISIS.  I understand, I think, what they intended – the ranks of ISIS would swell much more slowly with a smaller pool of disenfranchised youth who see no hopeful future in this life and so find the allure of a free and quick ticket to Paradise compelling. Nevertheless, the absolute blindness which refused to recognize the primary magnetism of radical Islam in the lives of disciples of ISIS, insisting instead that the root causes of this movement are economic in nature, is truly breathtaking in its ignorance.

ISIS apparently can’t really be Islamic because we can’t personally imagine a religion inspiring its followers to behave in ways we consider so monstrous, even though the evidence show otherwise. Hence, our leaders continue to refuse to call this terrorist group Islamic.

But in favor of option 2, that our leaders do know the truth (or suspect it) but refuse to label ISIS as Islamic for ulterior reasons, is the fact that some within the administration have argued one or more of the following:

* To call ISIS Islamic would be to confer a dignity upon them that they do not deserve, and erroneously lend them legitimacy in the eyes of others;

* To call them Islamic while we have indicated that we are committed to their destruction would imply that we are at war with Islam at large, a declaration we do not want to make.

* To call them Islamic would alienate our American Muslim community and lead to a potential rise in bias and attacks on Muslims in our country.

None of these arguments is concerned with the truth/falsehood of the claim that ISIS is a legitimate expression of Islam. Instead, they all focus on what the negative consequences might be should the administration make that claim. One can easily understand such concerns.

But are they realistic? As to the first, ISIS could hardly care less what the US government (we are the Great Satan after all) says about it. Its sense of dignity comes from the belief that above all other groups it is honoring God by being his caliphate on earth. As to the second, most of the Muslim world is privy to the dirty secret that some of the practices of Muhammad and the early Muslim community were very unpalatable, if not outright immoral. They are embarrassed and ashamed by ISIS, which it parading these same foul behaviors before the whole world today. Though many would not be happy with the USA “taking out” ISIS, they would rather that happen than have ISIS continue to be a cancer on the reputation of the larger Muslim world.  And regarding the third, although American Muslim lobby groups such as CAIR are quick to cry “Islamophobia!” and to see signs of anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment and persecution at the drop of a hat, the facts show otherwise. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the majority American community acted with great grace, understanding and compassion toward the minority American Muslim community. Americans are not so dense as to be unable to distinguish between the murderous intent of the ISIS caliphate and the benign desire of Muslim Americans to contribute positively to the American enterprise.

So, in the end, does the Obama administration refuse to call ISIS “Islamic extremists” for ulterior reasons, or because they truly believe the terror group cannot rightly be called “Islamic”? I don’t pretend to know for sure, but I’m inclined to believe they are blinded by their own preconceptions, unable to conceive that such barbaric terrorism could be inspired by any religion, particularly one protected presently by political correctness. The ulterior reasons noted above can still be used (as we have seen from various administration officials) for further support, but they don’t seem strong enough on their own to bear the weight of the administration’s determination to avoid calling ISIS “Islamic” at all costs.

Time will tell whether this and future administrations admit what even some Muslim leaders in the Middle East (such as King Abdullah of Jordan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia) have already said – ISIS is a virulent form of Islam which must be confronted and defeated. It will be up to the Islamic world to deal finally with ISIS and other such terror groups, but the continuing ostrich-like ignorance of the “leader of the free world” cannot give much encouragement to the principal players in this life-and-death drama.

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16 Responses to There Are No Islamic Terrorists! — Seriously?

  1. Piper Bush Cartland says:

    Mateen, we do not know each other but I attend WCPPC every year – I think the FB group is where I saw the link to your blog. I’m guessing that you’ve seen the recent piece in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood – What ISIS Really Wants. Mr. Wood reaches much the same conclusions that you do, that ISIS is a legitimate expression of Islam and must be considered as such to formulate an effective response of any kind, at least as I read you both. I am very curious to know what you think of the Atlantic article, since you come to the subject from your Reformed evangelical perspective. Thank you!


    • mateenelass says:

      Piper, thank you for asking. I had heard about Wood’s Atlantic article before writing my first blog on ISIS, but had not yet read it. In the day between the first and second blog on ISIS and Islamic terrorism, however, I did read the article, and was so pleased to discover that my own thoughts lined up with most everything that Mr. Wood covered in so much more detail on the basis of significant research. Equally, I was grateful to learn through the article of the Lebanese Princeton professor Bernard Haykel, and to hear that he also strongly declares that ISIS must be treated as a slice of Islam and be challenged by the rest of the Muslim world rather than ignored in the hopes they will go away.


  2. Kenyon Kalvesmaki says:

    Dear Mateen, Thank you for your insights into the scourge of Islam – both the bad actors and those who say/do nothing. I appreciated your balance to remind us all that we can’t figure out the evil in man’s heart. I will continue to pray for you to be bold with love in Christ. Ken Kalvesmaki


  3. Lunacek Ted says:

    Mateen, How is your sweet daughter Kendall doing, and the rest of your gang. My daughter Kim would sit with Kendall in Colorado Springs.



    • mateenelass says:

      Ted, thank you for asking! Kendall is doing wonderfully, living at home with us, working daily and contributing to our church and larger community in regular ways! Our other two kids are well-launched in life, married and busy with careers. Our oldest, Brittany and husband Joey have blessed us with our first grandchild, who now is 13 months old!


  4. Victor Joe says:

    Mateen, since our days at WCCPC where I met you, I have watched you grow and to appreciate your cogent thoughts about your Arabic background! Your insights into the middle-east mind has been seasoned by your evangelical roots which gives you insight and perspective over the biases that are so engrained in the Islamic culture. One question I have is “What do we say to the Muslim community when we address this issue that Islam’s true colors are rooted in a culture that is dedicated to the destruction of people who are not followers of Muhammad?” It seems most Americans have their opinions about Muslims and are suspicious of them in one degree or another. Most Muslims claim Islam is a religion of peace and seem sincere about this. The truth of knowing what a Muslim believes and what we know about them creates a conflict of interest in what are to do! I assume most would do nothing based on societal pressure. Where are you going to be 8 days after Easter? If you bring your tennis racquet we can continue to act like we did years ago, making a fool of ourselves on the court. 😉


    • mateenelass says:

      Victor, I hope to make it out to Mt. Hermon. If so I’ll bring my racquet but won’t promise you any competition. It’s been years since I’ve really played.

      As to the questions you’ve raised, they are far to complex to attempt to address in a reply to your comment. I will think about them more deeply and perhaps write a blog or two in response. If not, I’ll send you my thoughts privately, and perhaps we’ll be able to talk more about them under the redwoods!


  5. lindanugget says:

    Excellent discussion, Mateen. I wish these last two posts could be printed for a wider audience! Americans and Europeans need to see the reality is this issue through the lens of truth & the reality of history. You have presented this very clearly!


  6. Rev. Dr. Ed says:

    Mateen… Excellent articles but I wonder if there might be a third option for not referring to “Islamic Terrorist”. Obama seems to have an early background in Islamic heritage and several observers have explored how that may be influencing him. Today a number of his closest advisers are said to be Muslim. It has been recently revealed Obama has been for same sex marriage but hid that fact from the public knowing that its revelation would most likely keep him from being elected to high office. So I wonder of Obama might really be sympathetic to the reestablishment of the Islamic Caliphate with the idea of the coming Caliph the Mahdi but hiding it from the people? Is it possible he and his closest advisers look away from ISIL and their like because he is sympathetic with their goals? Wonder what your thoughts might be regarding this???


    • mateenelass says:

      Ed, you may indeed be right, but of course we are not privy to the President’s private thoughts, so can’t draw firm conclusions about his views of Islam and a revived caliphate. I personally believe that he is sympathetic to a non-aggressive form of Islam, perhaps ignorantly so. He certainly seems to take more pleasure in criticizing the Church on many fronts than in offering any negative assessments of Islam, but this may be an indication of critiquing what you know rather than spouting off about what you know little of. It’s clear to me from various statements he has made over the years that he has a working knowledge of the essential truths of the gospel. How much he actually believes them I could not say. There is a doctrine within some strains of Islam known as “taqiyya” where a Muslim is given permission to lie in order to save his own life or advance the cause of Islam, but this is a rather contentious issue within the fold of Islam. I’ve always thought that since the President and First Lady had their two daughters baptized in the church, he could not be an observant Muslim since for Muslims the act of baptism is the point of no return — it is the declaration that one has apostatized from Islam. If her were truly a Muslim, his daughters by birth would be considered Muslims; hence for them to be baptized would be a declaration of their apostasy. Even for someone practicing taqiyya, this would be an almost unthinkable step to take in the name of Islam — at least, that’s my feel.


      • Rev.Dr.Ed says:

        Appreciate your observations. I had been reading an interview with Daniel Akbari, who was presented as a top Iranian Shariah lawyer and author of “Honor Killing: A Professional’s Guide to Sexual Relations and Ghayra Violence from the Islamic Sources.” He listed a number of guiding principles of Islam, the first three being:
        “(1) Koffar (unbelievers) do not have a right to know what Islam teaches.
        (2) It is sinful for Muslims to take non-Muslims as friends or protectors unless it is for the purpose of using the non-Muslims to accomplish the goals of Islam. It is not a sin if Muslims “make taqiyya” – use deception – to protect themselves or Islam.
        (3) Muslims must lie if it is the only way to achieve an obligatory goal of Islam, especially the maqasid al-sharia, the ultimate goal.”

        Having read that and also read of Obama’s early childhood connection and education with Islam items (2) and (3) above left me wondering. So I appreciate your insight. Thanks for your comment.


      • mateenelass says:

        Ed, that is fascinating! Of course, this Iranian scholar must be Shi’a, for whom taqiyya is much more widely embraced than for Sunnis. Understanding of Shari’a law as well is significantly different for these two major divisions of Islam. I’m very surprised at item (1), since Islam requires that its central message be proclaimed to the ignorant so they have a chance to intelligently respond to the summons to submit to Allah. Perhaps the reference to koffar/kuffar (meaning “infidels”) signifies a determination that these individuals have already made their choice to reject Islam, and hence have no right to know what Islam teaches. If that’s truly the case for Shi’a Islam (as a top guiding principle!), then what a huge statement that makes about the difference between how such Muslims and orthodox Christians understand the mercy of God! Thanks for sharing this with me.


  7. Jay Norton says:


    Looking forward to some further discussion on this Wednesday night. One of my questions had to do with when does the “caliphate” decide to execute Christians or other “People of the Book” as opposed to exacting the jizya tax. From news reports, it seems both scenarios have happened recently. Does this perhaps apply to Christians who opposed ISIS by taking up arms such as some Syrian Christians have done?


    • mateenelass says:

      Jay, you have it right. If Christians have taken up arms against Muslim armies, even in self-defense, and are defeated so that they become prisoners, they can be killed (not the typical approach since it is not as beneficial/lucrative for the Muslim community), kept as slaves, sold to others as slaves, or manumitted upon payment of ransom (by the individual or others). If they have not fought and been captured in battle, but after their “nation’s” defeat have agreed to abide by Muslim law and accept dhimmi status, then they begin paying the annual jizya. If they refuse to do this, or stop, then they are subject to execution. I believe that covers the bases of Islamic law in this regard, but I am not an expert of Shariah!


  8. Kay Nicholas says:

    Thank you Mateen for your blog and comments which are appreciated and being shared.


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