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.