Obama: Republican rhetoric on Islamic terrorism is helping ISIS, you know

He didn’t say the word “Republican” today but Time magazine has no trouble reading between the lines.

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.”

On the other side are conservative commenters and Republican Presidential contenders, who have argued Obama has weakened the international effort to defeat the radicals by whitewashing their religious roots in public statements.

The grave rhetorical sin of which Republicans are guilty, per the recent quotes assembled by Time, is in referring to “Islamic terrorists” or “radical Islam,” phrases that were completely anodyne even on the left until the White House decided a few months ago that any reference to Islam in describing the activities of the … Islamic State simply wouldn’t do. (Why Obama himself continues to refer to them as “ISIL” instead of inventing some suitably Orwellian pseudonym for them, I don’t know.) It used to be that acknowledging that jihadis were just a “tiny minority” of Muslims was enough to establish the conceptual break between the two groups, but now that there’s a terrorist outfit with the word “Islamic” in its name gobbling up Syria and Iraq, Obama’s evidently concluded that we need something sharper. By the time ISIS overruns the Vatican and beheads the Pope, he’ll be referring to them as ABISIL, the Anything But Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And the more he strains to excommunicate ISIS from Islam, the more desperate and doth-protest-too-much suspicious he seems. Even his fans at Vox, watching him inch out further and further onto a limb, are ready to saw it off.

Obama is faltering. He has veered so far into downplaying Islamist extremism that he appears at times to refuse to acknowledge its existence at all, or has referred to it as violent extremism. While he has correctly identified economic and political factors that give rise to extremism, he has appeared to downplay or outright deny an awkward but important fact: religion plays an important role as well.

This is backfiring. Obama’s conspicuous and often awkward attempts to sidestep the role of religion in Islamist extremism end up only drawing more attention to it. By refusing difficult questions about the role of religion in violent extremism, Obama is ceding those conversations to people like Bill O’Reilly, who has called Islam a “destructive force” and on Tuesday announced the US was in “a holy war.”…

Obama, by refusing to acknowledge that there is such a thing as Islamist extremism, has tied his own hands; he cannot draw a distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism if he pretends the latter does not exist. That has made it much harder for Americans to see where that line is for themselves.

Right, but another thing that’s made it hard for Americans to see where the line is is the fact that it’s actually hard sometimes to see where the line is. The “Islam means peace” approach favored by Bush and Obama imagines a bright line between Muslims on the one hand and retrograde jihadi fanatics on the other, not unlike how Christians generally are seen as clearly distinct from Joseph Kony’s army (to everyone but Marie Harf, I mean). But it’s not that simple, as even some liberals have taken to pointing out. Many Muslims abroad, while not personally violent, hold shockingly illiberal views on apostasy, blasphemy, women’s rights, religious freedom, and on and on. If you think someone should be killed for leaving your faith, if you think the European country in which you live is grievously immoral in many ways, why would you be eager to play informant against jihadis for the decadent civil authorities whom, you suspect, secretly despise people like you? Liberals have no difficulty grasping the idea that a poisoned tree can produce rotten fruit whenever some lunatic goes on a shooting rampage and hope rises, fleetingly, that it’s a tea partier who’s behind it. When it comes to Islam, though, all you get from Obama is finger-wagging about how Muslims are apples and jihadis are oranges and who knows how these oranges keep ending up in the apple bin.

The strategic aim of all this is to convince Muslims who are on the fence in the west’s war on ISIS that we mean them no harm and therefore there’s no need to go running off to Raqqa to enlist. But there’s the problem in a nutshell: Despite ISIS viciously persecuting religious minorities and proudly advertising its insane brutality on social media, there are still Muslims around the world — enough for the president of the United States to worry about this — who are sufficiently ambivalent about which side to support that the U.S. has to implement an Orwellian psy op over the word “Islam” to try to stay on their good side. In any other context, the liberal-in-chief would be properly more concerned with the illiberal culture that created this problem than with assuring its members that there’s really not much of a problem. As it is, he looks like a joke. Pretty soon he’ll be holding weekly fireside chats on who is and isn’t really a Muslim. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Not a Muslim. Omar, the nice IT guy you know at work? Definitely Muslim. Ali, the pleasant restaurateur at the excellent local falafel place who, by the way, thinks the Jews were behind 9/11? Obama will get back to you on that one.

Two clips for you here, one of Obama today and the other of a guy who has a lot more personally to fear from jihadis but who decided to drop a few truthbombs last month anyway.

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