President Barack Obama refused, once again, to describe the terror attack in Nice, France as the result of “radical Islam.”
But he did offer an alternative ideology — one that, he said, would help defeat terror (video via ABC News at 5:39):
…by working with partners around the world, including Muslim communities, to push back against hateful ideologies that twist and distort Islam, a religion that teaches peace and justice and compassion. We will defeat these ideologies by offering a better vision of development and economic progress. So people, especially young people, have more hope and opportunity, and are less susceptible to extremism and violence in the first place. And we will continue to promote political opportunity and democracy, so citizens have a say in their future. And we will win this fight by staying true to our values. Values of pluralism, and rule of law, and diversity, and freedoms — like the freedom of religion, Freedom of speech and assembly, he very freedoms that the people of Nice were celebrating last night on Bastille Day.
This is a version of the “root causes” theory that continues to animate the Obama administration’s approach to terror — one articulated, most comically, by the State Department’s Marie Harf in 2015: “We cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the longer term – we need the longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups. Whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs…”.
Western liberals have trouble accepting that something may be at work here beyond economics, even though there is ample evidence that radical Islam’s appeal has little to do with poverty. The terrorists who slaughtered more than 20 people in a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh early this month were sons of that country’s elite, educated in the best schools and with the world at their feet.
It is difficult for the left, which has all but ruled God out of contemporary moral life, to understand that religion could be a motivating force. (Ironically, the left has its own form of religion, in the form of millenarian protest movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, which seek to disrupt the state and yet, eventually, to use the state’s power to transform society.)
Human beings facing a spiritual void are susceptible to extremist appeals. And the problem is not new. It pre-dates radical Islam by at least a generation.
During World War II, George Orwell wrote a review of Mein Kampf in the hope of understanding what motivated the Nazi regime. He observed:
Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
Obama’s appeal to “a better vision of development and economic progress” has the same hollow ring as the failed progressive slogans of the early 20th century — perhaps because Obama does not believe in that vision of “development and economic progress” himself. After all, he spends far more energy and time attacking the inequality that attends economic progress to believe that “development” is, by itself, a compelling political proposition.
What the west needs is a bigger cause around which to rally, in order to resist and eventually crush radical Islam. The roots of that cause are in our classical liberties, which are closely entwined with the Judeo-Christian values that are our cultural inheritance (even for those who rail against those values).
The task of a supposedly great orator like Obama is to identify a more compelling vision than the “end with horror” that radical Islam proposes. That vision has to offer more than the humdrum happiness of a welfare check or even a job.
What do we believe? And for what values, if any, are we willing to die? Obama does not say. And so we continue to lose.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, will be published by Regnery on July 25 and is available for pre-order through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.