Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why the Reluctance?

This doesn't happen often, I suppose, but I'm going to defend something President Obama has been doing that's beginning to irk people on both the left and the right. The president has been noticeably, glaringly, unwilling to refer to the various horrific and barbaric acts of terrorism being perpetrated by Muslims around the globe as acts being perpetrated by Muslims. He's been very reluctant, for instance, to refer to ISIL as Islamic and to conjoin the words Islam and terrorism. For this he has taken a great deal of criticism from those who believe that the first step in dealing with a problem is correctly identifying the problem.

I agree with this principle, and I understand the growing dissatisfaction with the president's reticence, but I can also think of a very good, even noble, reason why he does not specifically identify Muslim terrorists as Muslims. I don't know if this is his reason, but if it is, I think he's taking the correct rhetorical course.

If the president were to state plainly that Muslims are behind almost all of the terrorism in the world today, from Boko Haram in Africa, to al Qaeda in Yemen, to ISIL in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, to the various irruptions of savagery in Europe and the U.S., it would almost surely stoke the fires of resentment and anger that are already simmering in this country toward Muslims. An acknowledgement by the president that the menace is an Islamic phenomenon might well cause that simmering anger to explode in brutal reprisals by one group of Americans against another.

Given that risk, it'd be irresponsible for Mr. Obama, as the leader of the nation, to be explicit in his denunciations of those who commit these atrocities. It would be seen by some as a signal, a green light, to harass, beat, and even kill innocent American citizens. There's much for which Mr. Obama can be rightfully criticized in his handling of terror: His open borders, his release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, his refusal to arm the Kurds, his insufferable display of insensitivity on the days we learned of the death of the American woman hostage, Kayla Mueller, and the beheading of the 21 Egyptian Christians - mugging for selfies on the day Mueller's death was announced and taking to the golf course on the day the Copts were slaughtered. Indeed, the list of puzzlements to which this president has given rise is extensive.

But on the matter of his almost awkward avoidance of identifying these terrorists as Muslims as well as his reluctance to identify their victims as frequently being Jews and Christians, I think, at least for now, he's probably doing the right thing.