‘Islamic terrorism’ and the Obama administration
It’s a drumbeat on the right: The Obama administration is in deliberate denial about the existence of “Islamic terrorism.” A conservative columnist recently complained that two federal reports described terrorism and violent extremism but didn’t mention “radical Islam as a motivator.” Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent senator from Connecticut, has chided the administration for failing to identify “violent Islamist extremism” as the enemy.
There is some truth in this criticism. The administration has assiduously avoided terms that recognize the distinct threat posed by those who cite Islam as a rationalization for terror. For example, a recent report by the Homeland Security Department’s Countering Violent Extremism Working Group refers vaguely to “ideologically motivated violent crime.” (The word “Muslim” does appear in descriptions of members of the working group.)
We understand the reason for the administration’s reticence. To Muslims, terms such as “Islamic extremists,” “Islamic terrorists” and even “radical Islam” — however others view them — seem to equate Islam with violence. Moreover, the equation of Islam with terrorism isn’t a figment of Muslims’ imagination. Consider the evangelist Franklin Graham’s noxious comment that Islam is “a very evil and wicked religion,” or the opposition to the construction of an Islamic cultural center (including a mosque) near ground zero in New York. An editorial in the conservative Washington Times, for instance, suggested that “it’s a sign of cultural weakness that Americans are afraid to say no to a mosque on the most prominent site of jihadist victory in the United States.” (Actually, religious pluralism is a cultural strength.)
Still, the administration has been excessively delicate in its language and has opened itself to a charge of political correctness run amok. It needs to find a way to acknowledge that at this point in history, the political extremism that poses the greatest threat is motivated by a perverted interpretation of a religion — while insisting, as the administration’s new National Security Strategy does, that “neither Islam nor any other religion condones the slaughter of innocents.”
It isn’t just that such realism would deprive administration critics of an easy political argument. It also would make it easier to join openly with Muslim communities in preventing the self-radicalization exemplified by Maj. Nidal Hasan, the alleged Ft. Hood shooter, and Faisal Shahzad, accused in the abortive Times Square bombing. Last month The Times reported that the administration was contemplating new efforts to deal with the radicalization of American Muslims.
So what should the proper terminology be? How about “terrorism, carried out in the name of Islam”?