For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase "radical Islam." That's the key, they tell us. We can't beat ISIL unless we call them radical Islamists.So there's no value to using this phrase, he says, but I'll note the obvious: If it's only a "political distraction," you could make the distraction go away by using the term. So the key is that there's value in not saying it. That's where he goes next. The familiar idea, as you can see below, is that he wants to convey the message that the form of Islam used by the terrorists is an incorrect interpretation of Islam.
What exactly would using this label would accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL 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.
This puts the President of the United States in the position of saying what is orthodox in religion. (I'm reminded — and this is Flag Day — of the Supreme Court's Pledge of Allegiance case with the great line: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion...".) But that's his approach and he's sticking to it. Here's how he repeated his iffy religious pronouncement:
Since before I was president, I've been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism.There are many versions of all of the religions. How is he supposed to know what versions are perversions? It sounds awful: perversion! But how can it mean more than that it's religion that seems bad to him? In which case, it's still religion. It's religion he doesn't like.
As president, I have called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world's great religions.This is a pragmatic political point. He wants to maintain good relations with the masses of people around the world who have preferable interpretations of Islam.
There has not been a moment in my seven and a half years as president where we have not able to pursue a strategy because we didn't use the label "radical Islam." Not once has an adviser of mine said, "Man, if we really use that phrase, we're going to turn this whole thing around." Not once.That's amusingly put, and I'm impressed that he found a way to be so amusing in the aftermath of a horror, but, again, he's speaking as a practical man. He doesn't need to say "radical Islam."
So if someone seriously thinks that we don't know who we're fighting, if there is anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are -- that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we've taken off the battlefield....There are some people who think you're confused about what our enemies are. They think you might be denying that these people do believe in their religion, recruit through religious belief, and act because of religious belief.
They know who the nature of the enemy is.Again with the "who," even where it is not idiomatic English. A straightforward, clear speaker of English as a first language would say: They know what the nature of the enemy is. He is suppressing something. He doesn't want to talk about what these people are really like inside. He's dwelling on identifying them as bomb targets, not understanding how their mind works. He knows who they are without delving into their Islamism, but not what they are.
So, there is no magic to the phrase "radical Islam." It's a political talking point. It's not a strategy.Those 3 sentences are all different. 1. No one said there was any "magic," as if they'd disappear if you said the words, Rumpelstiltskinesquely. 2. It sure is a political talking point, but that doesn't mean it's only a political talking point, and you yourself are using political points, and you could, if you wanted, make a political talking point out of using the phrase and wreck their talking point. 3. It may not be a strategy, but it could be part of various strategies (since it involves understanding their motives and determination).
And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism.Okay, so he's about to explain how refraining from using the phrase fits into a better strategy for defeating them.
Groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion of Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions.Oh! He said "crazy"! This is like Hillary yesterday calling Omar Mateen a "madman." The terrorists not only don't have religion, they don't even have ideas, only "crazy notions."
They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam.So, the idea — not a terrible idea, I'd say — is that by saying "Islam" at all, even in the formulation "radical Islamists," there's a risk of being heard as recognizing the terrorists as the leaders of Islam or representing the Islam side in an us-vs.-them war.
That's their propaganda, that's how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them.The people who want to say "radical Islamists" — most of them — don't mean to make that broader statement, but the problem, Obama is saying, is that it can be heard that way.
At this point, Obama turns his attention to Donald Trump. It's one thing to have "partisan" "yapping," but much more dangerous to have a policy proposal that "singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence."
Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer -- they were all U.S. citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them, because of their faith?...It's a bad direction to take, a turning away from American values, a — now, this is the right word — perversion.
And now, Obama gets to do the kind of sermon that warrants a President in the pulpit:
This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don't have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, are clear about that. And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect.The pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties, the very things that make this country great. The very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won, and we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.