In Tuesday’s meandering remarks on the Orlando jihadist attack, President Obama rebuked detractors who criticize him for failing to use the term “radical Islam” and be clear about the enemy waging war against the United States. “There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam,'” the president declared. “It’s a political talking point, not a strategy.” Calling the enemy by a different name, he insisted, would not change the enemy’s behavior – would not “make it go away.”
When Obama speaks about our Islamist enemies, it is always tough to decide whether he is (a) arrogantly clueless (because he always thinks he knows more about this subject than anyone else), or (b) cynically well-aware that what he’s saying is nonsense.
It has been Obama who has maintained for the entirety of his presidency that we have to be careful about the language we use to describe our enemies because our words affect their self-perception and their behavior. Calling jihadists “jihadists,” we were told, gives them too much credit and esteem in their culture. We should, we were lectured, resist applying Islamic terms to them because that affirms their self-image: warriors in a great cause, rather than the perverters of a great religion.
This theory has always been absolute, unmitigated, one-hundred percent BS.
As I’ve argued about a million times, our enemies despise us and do not judge themselves by how we talk about them. At best, they are indifferent to our language; otherwise, they are so hostile that they mock our “progressive” obsession over it. Sharia supremacists have their own civilization and cultural norms by which they judge themselves. They couldn’t care less what we think.
I often use the example of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood honcho who is about as influential a Sunni sharia jurist as there is in the world. Sheikh Qaradawi has a lot to say about Christianity and Judaism. Do you care what he thinks? Has it even occurred to you to find out what he has said? Of course not. And why not? Because you don’t care. You are not going to do or refrain from doing something because of what Qaradawi might say. We have our own norms against which we judge ourselves. We don’t give a thought, never mind a second thought, to the language some high-profile sharia supremacist uses to describe us.
So why on earth would we think radical Muslims, or Muslims in general, are hanging on our every word? They’re not.
The point Obama detractors have made about his failure to name our enemies has to do with our mindset, not the enemy’s. The question is whether we understand what we are fighting.
Obama was indignant on this subject, simple-mindedly contending that because we’ve killed a lot of terrorists we must know what we’re doing and why. But the terrorists are the easy part. Do we understand that terrorists are fighting to impose sharia? Do we understand that lots of other Muslims are also pushing to impose sharia, though they are not necessarily using or endorsing violence? Do we understand that there is a sharia-supremacist movement seeking to sabotage us from within, seeking to integrate into our society without assimilating, seeking to become a viable fifth-column that advances the sharia agenda while radicalizing young Muslims?
Calling the enemy “radical Islam” – and better, discussing their sharia-supremacism – conveys that we understand that our enemies are not just the terrorists; they also include other radicals who want to spread sharia and supplant our Constitution with it. It further conveys that our Muslim friends and allies are the non-radicals who support and embrace Western liberalism.
January 20, 2017, cannot get here fast enough.
A version of this piece also appeared on National Review Online.