Quotes of the day

President Obama said Thursday that governments across the globe are obligated to confront the “warped ideologies” that lead to terrorism, “especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.”…

“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie,” Obama said. “And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.”


“No religion is responsible for terrorism,” Obama said. “People are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

“There is a strain of thought that does not embrace ISIL tactics, but does buy into the notion the Muslim world has suffered historic grievances, some times is accurately,” Obama said. “It buys into the belief that flows from the conspiracy, by the idea that Islam is incompatible, that it is polluted by Western values. Those beliefs exist. In some communities around the world, they are widespread. It makes individuals, especially young people who may be disaffected are alienated more rife for radicalization.”…

“There are millions of people, billions who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideology,” Obama continued. “Conversely there are terrorists who come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden. What is true is that when millions of people, especially you are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliation on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentment festers. The risk of instability grows. Where young people have no education they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas.”


Obama aides say there is a strategic logic to his vocabulary: Labeling noxious beliefs and mass murder as “Islamic” would play right into the hands of terrorists who claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself. The last thing the president should do, they say, is imply that the United States lumps the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims with vicious terrorist groups.

But Mr. Obama’s verbal tactics have become a target for a growing chorus of critics who believe the evasive language is a sign that he is failing to look squarely at the threat from militant Islam. The vague phrasing, they say, projects uncertainty and weakness at a time when extremists claiming to fight for Islam threaten America and its interests around the world…

“You cannot defeat an enemy that you do not admit exists,” Michael T. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, told a House hearing last week. “I really, really strongly believe that the American public needs and wants moral, intellectual and really strategic clarity and courage on this threat.”


But this instinct [of self-criticism] can also blind liberals to real and important differences, and discourage the making of relevant, even essential judgments, as the embrace of humility and call to refrain from judging others becomes, paradoxically, its own source of pride. (“If only these judgmental simpletons could be as impressively humble and sophisticated in evaluating the world as I am…”)

Today this dynamic can be seen most clearly — and most dangerously — in the tendency of certain liberals to scour history and the internet for evidence to corroborate the suspicion that we in the modern West are really not all that much different than or morally superior to the Islamists currently rampaging across Mesopotamia, Libya, and central Africa. Sure, they do bad things — but we do, too! Who are we to judge?

As Graeme Wood’s superb cover story on the Islamic State in the March issue of The Atlantic makes indisputably clear, ISIS and many of those who support and long to fight and die for it really do exist in a different moral and theological universe than just about every American living today — and liberals who deny the reality of that chasm do so at their peril.


Sen. Ted Cruz says President Barack Obama is “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists,” blasting the administration’s rhetoric and approach to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

In particular, the Texas Republican criticized what he calls Obama’s refusal to label the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Egypt and the burning of 45 people in Iraq this week as “radical Islamic terrorism.” Cruz also complained that the White House did not explicitly acknowledge that those beheaded in Egypt were Christian.

“ISIS is the face of evil, and these latest atrocities … our heart breaks,” he said on the Fox News program “The Kelly File” on Wednesday night, using an alternate acronym for the terrorist group. “And to see 21 Coptic Christians murdered, beheaded by radical Islamic terrorists, to see 45 people lit on fire … this is horrific and it is deliberate and it is targeted at Christians. It is targeted at Jews. It’s targeted at Muslims in the region who do not accede to the radical Islamist view.”


[ISIS’s] version of jihad is gaining adherents precisely because it is motivated by an idea that challenges the values and beliefs of moderate Islam, the West and modernity. The free and non-fanatic world won’t win this deeper struggle if the Obama Administration refuses even to acknowledge its nature

[I]t’s hard to see how such a [religious] revolution might take place—much less who might carry it out—if Islam can barely be mentioned in the context of a conference on “violent extremism.”…

But the President also insisted that the West must never grant al Qaeda and Islamic State “the religious legitimacy they seek” by suggesting they are Muslim religious leaders rather than mere terrorists. That’s a fine sentiment, but it elides the fact that the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The Islamic State may speak for only a minority of Muslims, but it is nothing if not Islamic in its beliefs, methods and aims. Ignoring that reality for the sake of avoiding injured feelings helps nobody, least of all Islamic State’s many Muslim victims or Islam’s would-be reformers…

Jihadist ideology has gained millions of adherents because it makes fundamental claims about personal virtue and social justice. Countering that narrative requires something more than making an appeal, as State Department spokesperson Marie Harf did this week, to working on “root causes” such as insufficient schooling and job opportunities in the Arab world.


Obama purports to opine on the true meaning of Islam, as if he has the authority to judge religious orthodoxy and identify heretics within Islam…

Does Obama mean to say that al Qaeda and ISIS fighters don’t actually possess the religious beliefs they assert? If that’s what he means to say, I’m practically certain he’s lying. Could unalloyed political ambition and sheer military fervor explain what al Qaeda and ISIS are doing? No.

There are 2 possibilities here: 1. Obama is choosing to say something that is not true — that al Qaeda and ISIL fighters don’t really believe the religious beliefs they continually profess and act upon, or 2. Obama is making himself an arbiter of the true meaning of Islam — that al Qaeda and ISIS profess beliefs about Islam that are not what Islam really is.


[T[he most offensive thing about Obama’s “extremism” summit was that the “dog and pony show” (as it was called by no less a liberal than MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell) was meant to be a substantive response to the horrific terror attacks last month in Paris at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and at a kosher supermarket before the Jewish Sabbath. Instead it was just more of the same limp prevarication from Obama, as if the surge of terror had never happened…

Obama is governing the country from within a Sep. 10 mindset—one that sees terror as a matter of law enforcement, rather than war. The fact that mistakes have been made in the conduct of that war does not change the fact that it is a war. Obama’s refusal to acknowledge that reality has led to retreat after retreat. Today, the U.S. is arguably in a weaker position than on Sep. 10, 2001—and Obama’s repeated obfuscations are making America weaker still.


In most Arab countries, the authoritarian leadership is in some ways more liberal than the majority of the citizenry. As bad as these regimes are – and we coddle and enable many of them – almost every time the democratic process has been tried in the Islamic world, it’s produced more extremism and factional violence. So which nation does the president propose would benefit most from more democracy? Pakistan? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? Jordan? How would Christians and Alawites fare in a democratic Syria, do you think?…

In the West Bank, where the moderates of the PLO run the show, Mahmoud Abbas can’t even hold elections because the will of the people is too extreme for Fatah. In Turkey and in Pakistan, the military is counterbalance to the democratic impulses that would allow theocrats to become members of NATO or nuclear powers…

According to Pew Research Center polling, given a choice between a leader with a strong hand or a democratic system of government, most Muslims choose democracy. For us, democracy is shorthand for all the things we like about liberalism, but overwhelming percentages of Muslims believe that Islamic law should be the official law of their own nations, which, as we’ve seen, does not “coexist” with our notions of self-determination. With apologies to the president, this knotty situation does not exist because Americans aren’t sensitive enough.


Radical Islam is hardly the first movement to take advantage of bored young people. Think of all the dreamers who flocked to both sides of the Spanish Civil War, or the utopians who volunteered to fight against great odds to create Israel. Then there was the first generation of holy Muslim warriors and foreign fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Today the big historical draw for many bored young people is the promise of the caliphate. Shiraz Maher, a former member of the global radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London, told me he joined jihad after 9/11 because he wanted to be part of history. Maher comes from a middle class family in the U.K. and was not drawn to political Islam out of despair. Following race riots in northern England, he decided at age 20 to join a group that looked like it would be on the winning side. “My feeling was that there was a sense we were going to create a new history,” he told me. “We are going to be part of something new.”…

Instead of downplaying the threat of terrorism, Obama should heighten the contradictions. He should warn young people, particularly young Muslims, about the acute ideological danger coming from the Middle East. And then tell them it is the solemn calling of all those who cherish our open society to join our long war against Islamic Fascism. Instead of pandering, Obama should give the bored youth what they want: struggle


But both Christians inclined to be skeptical of Islam and Whiggish liberals inclined to be skeptical of anything medieval need to recognize two things: First, that a process of scriptural and theological interpretation that ruled out certain ISIS-like ideas happened very early in Muslim history, and not as a concession to anything like modern secularism; and second, that the Islam that developed out of this process of interpretation has a stronger claim to continuity with the actual Muslim past, both modern and pre-modern, than the Islamic State’s “prophetic methodology” and apocalyptic expectations.

So even as we acknowledge the obvious and describe ISIS as Islamic, we should give the rest of Islam credit for being, well, Islamic as well, and for having available arguments and traditions and interpretations that marginalized this kind of barbarism in the past, and God willing can do so once again.



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