White House summit on violent extremism and social media missing one element

When one thinks about violent extremism these days, what core causes and catalysts come to mind? In the past few weeks, massacres have occurred on the streets of Paris and Copenhagen, videos have been released showing beheadings of, ahem, citizens,” and a certain marauding army continues to recruit thousands of enlistees through a sophisticated propaganda campaign on social media. There seems to be plenty of material to fill the three-day summit on violent extremism on social media that starts today at the White House, thanks to the spread of Islamist extremism and terrorism.

Well, there is one small problem — the White House won’t mention Islamist extremism at the summit:

The White House will kick off a three-day summit Tuesday on combating violent extremism on social media — but the administration won’t focus on Islamic extremism and won’t even mention the term.

“You can call them what you want; we’re calling them terrorists,” a senior Obama administration official said Monday. …

The rub for the Obama administration is that while the murderers cite their faith as motivation, they don’t represent Islam and, therefore, shouldn’t be associated with the religion.

Er … okay. What kind of “violent extremism” will get discussed, then? The extremist Amish? The Gamergate episode of Law & Order:SVU? Perhaps the White House wants to discuss their role in fueling riots after Ferguson, but I highly doubt it.

Instead, they’ll tiptoe around the central motivation of groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, and the Taliban by talking about the violence as the end, rather than the means for groups like this to achieve their actual end goal of global Islamist domination. They will pretend that religion has nothing to do with it, while at the same time arguing that today’s Christians have some moral guilt for the Crusades which makes them ineligible to criticize the religious motivation of actual Islamist theocrats.

That will take some neat footwork, but denial has to be complete in order to be effective. One way to ensure this is to avoid mentioning the nature of the victims of the violence and pretending that they were chosen randomly, as Jim Geraghty explained last night on CNN. CNN is part of the denial problem too, he points out:

For example, CNN’s religion site just declared, attempting to wrap up the week:

Whether you believe that religious violence is fueled by faith or is a symptom of larger factors — political instability, poverty, cultural chaos — one thing seems clear: Last week was hellish for religion.

Across several continents, including North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, scores of religious believers suffered and died in brutal attacks over the past seven days.

The causes of violence are complex, and reducing them to talking points only adds to the problem, scholars say. But if you want to rally troops to your side, few tools are more powerful than religion, said Michael Jerryson, co-editor of “The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence.”

From that painfully generic description, you could easily conclude the violence is perpetrated by Buddhists and Mennonites.

At least they’re having a summit on violent extremism and social media, one might be tempted to say in optimistic tones. It’s true that they’re actually addressing the issue, but as the New York Times’ Eric Schmitt reports, it’s not much more than an attempt to build a better hashtag to keep the world’s terrorists from beating a pathway to our door:

The Obama administration is revamping its effort to counter the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, acknowledging that the terrorist group has been far more effective in attracting new recruits, financing and global notoriety than the United States and its allies have been in thwarting it. …

“We’re getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content,” Richard A. Stengel, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said by telephone on Monday. Until now, he said, the efforts to counter ISIS could have been better coordinated.

Many of the plan’s details are still being worked out, but administration officials are expected to describe at least its broad outlines during three days of meetings, sponsored by the White House and beginning Tuesday, intended to showcase efforts underway in the United States and abroad to combat what the authorities call violent extremism.

Senior administration officials on Monday described the conference, coming in the wake of extremist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, as a way to help communities counter the efforts of groups like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. President Obama will speak twice during the meetings, which are expected to draw local leaders from around the United States and foreign ministers from more than 60 nations. …

“These guys aren’t BuzzFeed; they’re not invincible in social media,” Mr. Stengel said.

It’s not that such an effort isn’t needed. In order to counter Islamist terror propaganda, though, don’t we have to recognize that it is actually Islamist in the first place? Or at least mention it?