In the midst of recent horrific acts of terror, from burning the Jordanian pilot to storming the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Danish café holding a free speech conference and the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen, many opinion leaders scratch their heads over President Obama and his administration’s refusal to couple the words “Islam” with “terrorism.” The result is the label “violent extremism,” awkwardly redundant in large part because what makes its referents “extreme” is precisely their use of violence. Many exasperatingly surmise the administration must be naïve, even delusional, and fails to understand the threat we face. Most then correctly warn that if we cannot accurately name the threat, we stand little chance of effectively dealing with it.
This is not, however, a failure to understand the nature of Islam and its connection with modern day terror at all. Rather, it is the result of perhaps the most defining characteristic of Obama’s presidency: savvy rhetoric that, quite deliberately, disguises his actions and policies. From “you can keep your doctor” to “this will be the most transparent administration in history,” the President is facile juggling two vastly different narratives; one to trap and control public attention while the other grounds his policies. And as with the IRS targeting of conservatives, the Benghazi assassinations, Obamacare and so on, when the actions invariably so conflict with the rhetoric, we struggle to explain the dissonance in ways we can most accept. In the case of Obama’s dealings with Islam and, in particular our Islamic enemies, however, finding an acceptable explanation is exceptionally frustrating because we are generally unfamiliar with Islam. Consequently, we indulge in (and a compliant media even clings to) explanations that Obama is naïve, incompetent, or psychologically stressed because they are more comforting than recognizing the alternative.
In the case of Obama’s refusal to couple “Islam” with “terror,” his rhetorical narrative of Islam is waning in its ability to disguise his policy narrative- paying homage to Sharia (“Islamic Law”). Obama’s public pose is as an authority on the issues he engages. Indeed, bold statements such as “Islam is a great religion of peace” or “this has nothing to do with Islam” presume substantial knowledge of Islam. In fact, Obama knows exactly what he is doing and his administration understands quite a bit about Islam. It has advisors and employees well familiar with Sharia and it openly entertains advice from Muslim Brotherhood-friendly groups and others. Yet the Islam Obama pays respect to is vastly different from the Islam he presents to the public; he simply tells one tale about Islam while operating out of another.
The Rhetorical Narrative
It is helpful to examine these two faces of Islam separately. The construct the administration (and its predecessor for different reasons) professes to know and publicly promotes is that Islam is a religion much like we would like it to be; one that tolerates all people as equals and seeks to make the world a better place for all. Obama recently stated “99.9% of Muslims” are “looking for the same thing we’re looking for: order, peace, and prosperity.” This view declares that just as the KKK applies a small, deviant, nihilistic, and violent interpretation of Christianity, there are a few extreme Muslims who have sought to take advantage of Western ignorance of Islam by claiming to act in its name when performing universally abhorrent acts; but that is not “true Islam.”
And in his recent National Prayer Breakfast speech, Obama reasserted this unseemly and historically disingenuous equivalence: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
The administration takes advantage of this construct in a variety of ways. One notion that flows from it is that it is the West’s responsibility to rise from its ignorance and make sure that Islam is given its proper and deserved respect. Putting the absurdity of the references to the Crusades and Jim Crow aside, Obama, perhaps the most arrogant and condescending president in US history, proceeds to request humility in our dealings with Islam. Permanently perched upon his own high horse, Obama is able to assume the mantle of “justice” and pronounce universal fairness as his guiding principle.