President Obama accused those who note that the Islamic State is an Islamic organization of providing the group with recruitment rhetoric in a speech on Thursday.
The President’s remarks are delivered in a Time article headlined “Obama Claims Republican Rhetoric Could Help ISIS,” just in case anyone misses the political maneuver Obama is pulling here:
The newest front in the American war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) will not take place in the deserts of Syria, Iraq or Libya, but on the covers of the nation’s tabloids and the airwaves of its cable television jabfests. President Obama, with two speeches in as many days, has decided to take the battle to his conservative critics.
Those who identify the black-clad extremists with their religious roots, the commander-in-chief argued repeatedly, are peddling a “lie” that will drive recruitment by the nation’s enemies and ultimately hurt U.S. interests. “These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative,” he said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State.
But he did not stop there. A day after talking about the “debate in the press and among pundits” over terminology, he accused others in the public sphere Thursday of aiding the terrorist cause by highlighting the connection between Islamic teachings and Islamic State’s tactics, which include rape, beheadings, crucifixions and slavery. “That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations,” he continued. “That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence, and that hurts all of us, including Islam and especially Muslims who are the ones most likely to be killed.”
Given the energy his loyal followers are putting behind boiling Rudy Giuliani in rhetorical oil for daring to suggest President Obama does not love America, this might have been a bad time for the President to mutter that his critics are helping ISIS by reinforcing its “narrative” of jihad. There has always been an enormous double standard for Obama and other Democrats to be as nasty as they like in questioning the intelligence, compassion, patriotism, and very humanity of Republicans, but the President’s latest remarks are timed especially badly. The point he wants to make about how linking any iteration of Islam to the Islamic State is playing into ISIS’ hands is also silly, an elaborate excuse to justify Obama’s lax response to Islamist terror, and it flies in the face of everything we know about the enemy.
Since Obama supporters want to give him credit for taking the gloves off and going bare-knuckle against his critics, I’ll do the same: the American political figure who is most prominently promoting the “narrative” of ISIS is Barack Obama. His cheesy effort to build moral equivalence between Christians and the Islamic State by invoking the Crusades precisely mirrors what Islamists say about the Crusades, and they say it quite frequently. This isn’t just a verbal “gotcha” game revolving around use of the terms “Crusade” and “Crusaders” – it is a core element of Islamist philosophy that modern-day Christians remain morally culpable for the Crusades, which they portray as a unique outrage, exactly the way Obama did at the National Prayer Breakfast. Every single page of the Islamic State’s magazine Dabiq rails against “Crusaders.”
Obama is most definitely repeating and reinforcing an important Islamist “narrative” when he tells Christians they have no moral standing to get up on their “high horses” and criticize contemporary Islamist atrocities because of what the Crusaders did. (Try to imagine Obama doing the reverse, and lecturing a Muslim audience at a prayer breakfast about how they have no standing to complain about Israel because of Mohammed’s bloody conquests.)
As to this business of helping ISIS by refusing to join Obama in pretending they have nothing to do with Islam – well, that’s also much more helpful to the Islamist “narrative” than what Obama’s critics have been saying. Another important element of ISIS ideology is their assertion that all Muslims who disagree with them are apostates. You will find that argument on nearly every page of Dabiq as well, especially when it is justifying the brutal treatment of such Muslim adversaries as burned-alive Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh.
ISIS explicitly and energetically invokes religious authority to command allegiance – they have captured the requisite territory to found a caliphate, head honcho Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi meets the scriptural requirements for a caliph, and so forth. Obama isn’t challenging these claims – he is trying to deny that ISIS is making them at all, or that a significant number of Muslims are taking them seriously. That is going to reinforce the Islamic State narrative about how its opponents are henchmen of the godless West.
When dealing with a hateful and virulent ideological enemy, it could be argued that virtually anything we say can be slotted into their “narrative” somehow; it is not as if al-Baghdadi and his gang will respond to criticism from Obama, or any Republican leader, by saying “The Americans have an excellent point!” The question is, how does our rhetoric influence those who might be persuaded to either join ISIS, or oppose them? Obama says that denying the Islamic component of Islamism will rob the terrorists of much-needed “legitimacy,” but does anyone really get the sense they need to be certified as authentically Islamic by secular Western leaders to obtain legitimacy?
On the contrary, downplaying the ideological threat posed by Islamists does their Muslim adversaries and potential recruits no favors. This is an ideological enemy we’re fighting, not just a barbarian horde with a constellation of lone-wolf admirers. They’re apocalyptic, but not “nihilists,” as Obama often describes them. Confronting and defeating their ideology is the task before us, not ignoring the problem and hoping it blows over. There are a significant number of Muslims buying what the various brands of Islamism are selling. How can we give needed cultural support to the Muslims we want to prevail over them by claiming they are up against Generic Extremism?
To take a recent example of such good Muslims, the young people organizing this weekend’s “peace ring” demonstration at a synagogue in Norway certainly don’t seem to think they are taking a stand against Generic Extremism or the “random” shooting of non-specific “folks.”
Obama’s intellectual pretensions are just excuses for his half-hearted, annoyed response to ISIS – there are many things he would rather be spending his time and political capital on, and he is scared to death that history will hold him responsible for letting the Islamic State into Iraq. If he is going to bother with this mess at all, he’d rather reframe it as something politically useful to him; he can work his domestic political agenda into a crusade against Generic Extremism, a term he uses to describe all political opposition to him. You’ll never guess who Obama’s Department of Homeland Security just portrayed as America’s big terrorist threat: “right-wing sovereign citizen extremists.” No one seems concerned that calling them out by name will reinforce their “narrative.”