Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
After the Orlando attack, Obama ranted that it did not matter what we called Islamic terrorism. “What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIS less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.”
The “Islamic terrorists by any other name would smell as sweet” argument is the last resort of the losing side. It dismisses the whole issue as a matter of semantics with no bearing on the real world.
And that’s a neat rhetorical trick for the political side that relentlessly refuses to acknowledge reality.
One of the more shocking moments in Jeffrey Goldberg’s extended Atlantic write-up of Obama’s foreign policy came with his conversation with the Prime Minister of Australia. Obama, who has refused to recognize any connection between Islamic theology and violence, and made the hijab into a civil rights issue, told the Australian leader how he had seen Indonesia turn to “fundamentalist” Islam and noted, unfavorably, the large numbers of women now wearing hijabs as a sign of that fundamentalism.
Obama blamed the Saudis for pushing Wahhabism through imams and madrassas into Indonesia.
It wasn’t an original critique, but also not one that you hear much in Obama’s circles. When Obama reportedly tells world leaders that there will be “no comprehensive solution to Islamist terrorism until Islam reconciles itself to modernity” and undergoes reforms the way that Christianity did, it’s like suddenly having Khrushchev explain why Communism can’t work and will end up falling apart.
It’s shocking and revealing.
In moments like these we see that Obama knows that he’s lying. And Obama makes the awkward semantics argument because he knows that the existence of Islamic terrorism can’t be debated. When you are reduced to arguing that names don’t matter, it’s because you know that the name is right.
Plenty of leftists lie to themselves about Islamic terrorism. Obama is not lying to himself. He’s lying to us. He is willing to say things about Islamic terror to foreign leaders that he refuses to say to Americans.
He can tell them that Islamic terrorism is real and that the only way to stop it is to reform Islam.
And here is where we come back to his question of why naming Islamic terrorism matters. It’s a question that Obama has already answered. You can’t solve a problem until you define it. It may not matter what you call a rose, as long as you know that it’s a plant. If you don’t know that a rose is a flowering plant that grows out of the ground, then you’ll never figure out how to plant one. If you don’t know that Islamic terrorism is a theological implementation of its core religious identity, you won’t even know what it is you are supposed to be fighting. And you won’t win except through brute force.
We have never defined the problem of Islamic terrorism because that would just be too dangerous.
Why is Obama willing to talk about Saudi support for terrorism to the Prime Minister of Australia, but not to Americans? Why does he only suggest reforming Islam to foreign leaders in private?
The official story is that it would “empower” Islamic terrorists, but that’s a nonsensical claim. ISIS doesn’t derive its legitimacy from whether we call it ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Nor are Muslims going to determine the theological legitimacy of a Jihadist group based on whether we refer to it as Islamic.
Telling the truth would no doubt “offend” Muslims. And the threat of offending Muslims continues to occupy far more branches of our government than fighting Muslim terrorism.
But Obama isn’t really afraid of offending Muslims. If he were, he wouldn’t have provided this little peek into his private meetings at all. Obama isn’t afraid of Muslims, terrorists or otherwise, he’s afraid of Americans.
Tell the truth and Americans might suddenly get the naughty idea that instead of waiting for Islam to “reform”, they ought to just deal with the problem at its source with a travel ban. They might decide that extra scrutiny for mosques really is warranted and that airport profiling would save everyone grief.
And, worst of all, they might realize that they have no reason to feel guilty about our foreign policy. If Islamic terrorism exists and is caused by Islam, then America isn’t and was never the problem.
That kind of thinking frightens Obama and the left far more than a hundred Orlando terror attacks.
Name the enemy and Americans might suddenly start feeling good about themselves. That outraged confidence which we associate with Pearl Harbor, but that made a brief return after September 11, might come back to stay. Americans would embrace patriotism and pride without doubt or guilt.
That is why Islamic terrorism can’t and won’t be named.
Whatever dislike Obama may harbor for the Islamization of Indonesia, he appears to be far less concerned by it than by the Americanization of America. He may indeed recognize Islamic terrorism to be a threat of some degree, but he views American patriotism as a much bigger threat.
He can give enlightened Atlantic readers a small peek behind the scenes to show them that he recognizes the obvious problem, but he isn’t about to extend that confidence nationwide.
And it’s not just Obama.
The real reason that our leaders won’t name the enemy is that they don’t like us and they don’t trust us. Running through their heads are nightmare scenarios like Brexit and Trump. They see their job as shepherding us away from our “worst impulses” toward a proper role within the global community.
They are quite capable of recognizing Islamic terrorism for what it is. They may not be terribly bright, but people in their positions have more than enough access to information for the conclusions to be inescapable. But they are determined not to allow Islamic terrorism to disrupt their larger plans for us.
It isn’t another 9/11 or 7/7 that worries them, but a resurgence of nationalism in response to it. That is why they will lie, mislead and even criminalize any dissent. Their response to every Islamic terrorist attack is to make us feel responsible, ashamed and helpless by transforming Muslims into the victims.
For these same reasons they will push mass Muslim migration no matter what the terror risks are. They will champion the hijab, even though they know it harms Muslim women. Why? Because these policies undermine our values and transform our countries. And that is their overriding agenda above all else.
That is what we are up against.
They know that they are lying about Islamic terrorism. It’s why Obama dismisses the subject as mere semantics. But it’s only one of many things that they are lying to us about. Obama lies to us about Islamic terrorism for the same reason that he lies to us about being able to keep your doctor.
He knows the truth, but the truth would interfere with the left’s larger plans to transform America.