Obama still refuses to describe Islamic terrorism as “Islamic”

If you’ve heard the speeches and comments about terrorism that President Obama has issued over the past week, you’ll have noticed an obvious omission: there’s virtually no mention of religion or Islam as a factor in the terrorist acts of individuals or groups like ISIS. When the President does mention religion, he disavows that it has any connection with terrorism, and avers that the supposedly Islamic motivations of terrorists “aren’t really Islamic.” The three-day conference on terrorism that Obama convened this week was called “Countering violent extremism.” The word “religious” might have been inserted before the last word.

After that conference, Obama gave a good example of his circumlocution, which I find not only embarrassing but duplicitous:

“Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge, so I want to be very clear about how I see it,” the president said. “Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam.”

But Mr. Obama said that “we must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.” The operatives of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists,” he said.

The lie here is not from ISIS, but from Obama. This mendacity is starting to anger me, for it’s an obvious avoidance of an obvious cause. ISIS and the murderers in Denmark and Paris are palpably motivated largely—if not solely—by their religious beliefs. They say so!  And ISIS and Al-Qaeda are indeed “holy warriors in defense of Islam,” even if we don’t like how they conceive of Islam or what they’re doing to defend it.

Yet Obama won’t admit it this out of either deference for religion or, as noted below, fear of angering Muslim states that are our allies; and it’s all starting to look pretty ridiculous. The ex-mayor of New York City, Rudy Gulianai, described Obama as “not loving America” because of this avoidance, and while that’s completely stupid, even cooler heads are beginning to fault the President for studiously avoiding the topic of Islam. The criticism has become so pervasive that the New York Times had a front-page article about it yesterday, “Faulted for avoiding ‘Islamic’ labels to describe terrorism, White House cites a strategic logic.”

The problem:

[Obama] and his aides have avoided labeling acts of brutal violence by Al Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State and their allies as “Muslim” terrorism or describing their ideology as “Islamic” or “jihadist.”

With remarkable consistency — including at a high-profile White House meeting this week, “Countering Violent Extremism” — they have favored bland, generic terms over anything that explicitly connects attacks or plots to Islam.

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.

The other reason, of course, is that we don’t want to piss off our Muslim “allies” like Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia by supposedly impugning the dominant religion of those nations.

Both reasons seem nonsensical to me. The second can easily be defused if Obama just called such terrorism a manifestation of “a murderous and brutal strain of Islam,” which lets all the non-murderous and non-brutal Muslims off the hook. The first rationale—that if we call ISIS a form of Islamic terrorism it will further inflame them and bring them recruits—is equally ludicrous. ISIS already admits that it’s an Islamic organization. Are we supposed to believe that if Obama states that ISIS is what it admits to being, but then qualifies that by saying that most Muslims deplore its violence, his statement will nevertheless bring a stream of recruits to ISIS and other organizations?

But what is gained by calling a Muslim a Muslim? The critics make these arguments:

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.

“Part of this is a semantic battle, but it’s a semantic battle that goes to deeper issues,” said Peter Wehner, a veteran of the past three Republican administrations and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Self-deception is not a good idea in politics or international affairs. We’re lying to ourselves, and the world knows it.”

While the most vehement criticism has come from Mr. Obama’s political opponents on the right, a few liberals and former security officials have begun to echo the criticism.

“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.”

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University and author of a book on Islam in America, said he supported the Obama administration’s care in avoiding a counterproductive smear of all Muslims. But he said the president sometimes seemed to bring an academic approach to a visceral, highly politicized discussion.

“Obama’s reaching a point where he may have to ditch this almost scholastic position,” Mr. Ahmed said. “He sounds like a distinguished professor in the ivory tower, and he may have to come down into the hurly-burly of politics.”

I also agree that we shouldn’t smear all Muslims in this battle, for most Muslims say they deplore this violence. (I have to add, though, that many who don’t participate in the violence nevertheless seem to celebrate it, as evidenced by celebrations in much of the Arab world after terrorist attacks on the West. It’s only when the Islamic violence hits close to home, as it did with the Egyptian Copts murdered in Libya and the Jordanian pilot burned alive, that these states swing into action.)

Obama has turned into a political Reza Aslan, denying the obvious.

So if we admit that we’re fighting extremist Islam, will that help us defeat them? I’m not sure, though Graeme Wood argues that we can’t defeat an enemy if we don’t understand or admit what’s motivating them. But I do value truth above lies, or at least Obama’s deceptive circumlocutions, and it’s not clear that admitting who we’re fighting, and what they’re fighting for (they want a caliphate, for crying out loud!) will hurt us. Further as Peter Bergen notes in the CNN piece described below, admitting that terrorism has an Islamic cause makes it more urgent for us to press Muslim nations to address that explicitly and criticize the forms of Islam that breed violence and hatred.

And there’s a greater issue: the coddling of religion by refusing to admit that it can spawn horrors like ISIS. If we keep imputing the bad things that religion does to other causes, like colonialism or poverty, we’ll never make progress toward ridding the world of harmful superstition. (And, as I always argue, to rid the world of superstition we must also rid it of the social dysfunction that breeds religion.) It is those on the fence about faith who need to clearly see its consequences, and the more we point out the connection between faith and harmful behavior, the faster we’ll rid the world of those delusions.

*******

Speaking of the supposed nonreligious causes of terrorism, you can read a frank analysis that issue, and of of the religious roots of Islamic terrorism, in an article by CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen: “Nonsense about terrorism’s ‘root causes‘”. After showing that terrorism (and the leadership of organizations like ISIS) is by and large a middle-class operation, not usually driven by poverty or disenfranchisement, Bergen goes after Obama’s duplicity:

So if it’s clearly not deprivation that is driving much Islamist terrorism, what is?

For that we must turn to ideology, specifically religious ideology. And this is where the Obama administration has to perform some pretzel logic. It is careful to explain that the war on ISIS is not a war on Islam and that ISIS’ ideology is a perversion of the religion. Fair enough. But the administration seems uncomfortable with making the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam that are intolerant of other religions and of other Muslims who don’t share their views to the letter.

ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is, just as Christian beliefs about the sanctity of the unborn child explain why some Christian fundamentalists attack abortion clinics and doctors. But, of course, murderous Christian fundamentalists are not killing many thousands of civilians a year. More than 80% of the world’s terrorist attacks take place in five Muslim-majority countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria — and are largely carried out by groups with Islamist beliefs.

. . . The Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups are not, of course, secular organizations. To treat them as if they were springs from some combination of wishful thinking, PC gone crazy and a failure to accept, in an increasingly secularized era, that some will kill in the name of their god, an all-too-common phenomenon across human history.

Bergen is clear about the implication of this recognition for our foreign policy:

ISIS sees itself as the vanguard army that is bringing back true Islam to the world. This project is of such cosmic importance that they will break any number of eggs to make this omelet, which accounts for their murderous campaign against every ethnic group, religious group and nationality that they perceive as standing in their way. ISIS recruits also believe that we are in the end times, and they are best understood as members of an Islamist apocalyptic death cult.

What does that mean for policy makers? It means that the only truly effective challenges to this reasoning must come from Islamic leaders and scholars who can make the theological case that ISIS is an aberration. This, too, is an Islamic project; it is not a jobs project.

h/t: Brygida

162 Comments

  1. Posted February 20, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Sub

  2. Phil Giordana FCD
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    “Obama still won’t refuses to describe Islamic terrorism as “Islamic””

    There might be a slight typo there.

  3. ss
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Exactly this issue has been discussed by Anderson Cooper of CNN with Muslim reformist (and former Islamist) Maajid Nawaz and Fareed Zakaria.

    Also interviewed here is the writer of the famous article in the Atlantic on ISIS, that you also posted about.

    http://www.snappytv.com/tc/484505

    • ss
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      I am sorry. The Atlantic article’s author is only mentioned as to be interviewed. He was (according to some tweets), but this clip doesn’t show that part.

      • matt
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        i believe Sam Harris will be posting a conversation with this author soon, as well.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Maajid Nawaz makes more sense than Fareed Zakaria in this conversation.

      Toward the end Zakaria says “It doesn’t really matter what you call it.” Well, if that’s true, then why all the pussy-footing around? Call it by what it is, Islamic (or Islamist if you like) extremism.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Good link. I think between these two gentlemen the explanation of Obama’s reluctance is pretty clear. He is treating the issue politically not academically. Language is important, but the point is he’s trying to separate ISIL from a billion other Muslims.

  4. alexandra
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Does anybody think about the Spanish Inquisition without instantly understanding that it was the Catholic Church behind it? Does that mean all catholics then were torturing? no. Can anyone now think about Isis without also understanding that it is Islam motivated? Does that mean that all Muslims are slaughtering? no. They were, are, both about ideology and heresy and converting.
    That is what someone needs to point out to Pres O. Maybe he is in too much of a bubble to listen to anyone…. But wise words on the subject are out there – and in WEIT! He is being unrealistic and ostrichy.

  5. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I’m guessing that Obama’s thinking is that framing this as a war against Islam is strategically unwise. It would anger and alienate the majority of Muslims who don’t support ISIS.

    • nickswearsky
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      I agree. Obama is practical.It is the smart move. I don’t understand why there is so much complaining. It is not like we do not understand ISIS. I have the same reaction to those who criticized the woman who said “we can’t kill our way to victory in this war.” Heart and minds matter. It’s not like we are going to stop trying to kill ISIS.

      • Pete
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        I agree with both of you. What Obama is doing is the same thing that W Bush was doing. I believe it is called being diplomatic (or tactful), which is part of the job description. It is about the practical matter of expanding alliances.

        What is also interesting to me is that a number of commentators (Professor Coyne not among them of course) who had previously criticized Obama for not citing religious factors underlying terrorism then criticized him when he pretty much did exactly that; this was when he cited the Christian inspiration for things like the Crusades. One cannot understand those remarks without understanding that in making them he was indeed acknowledging Islamic religious factors affecting much of today’s violence.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          There are certainly right-wing religious nut-jobs who bristle when Christian horrors are mentioned but who complain when Obama refuses to acknowledge the Islamic nature of Islamic terrorism. Is that who you are referring to?

          • GBJames
            Posted February 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            Erf… check box.

      • GBJames
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. It is a terrible move because it is so transparently false. It is as stupid as insisting that seawater isn’t wet. There’s no way that anything good can come from telling obvious lies.

        • darrelle
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          I am always left wondering what makes people so confident that Obama’s “diplomacy” on this issue is surely of benefit. As far as I can think we have exactly 0 examples of US presidents, in modern times, in similar circumstances, saying significantly other than what Obama is saying.

          Since there is nothing to compare it too how can they be so sure that Obama’s “osculation of the rump of faith” method is the best way to go?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          I agree GB. I’ve posted YouTube videos of both Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation and Zuhdi Jasser of the Islamic Forum for Democracy both criticizing Obama’s failure to call the terrorism Islamic. Among other things, they both say his stance is putting Muslims at risk because people know there’s a relationship to Islam anyway and people think all Muslims are a problem when Obama goes down this path. They both say he needs to describe Islamism as a separate thing from Islam.

          I’ve written about this myself and gotten a fair bit of push back from Aslan/Greenwald fans, but I think someone who’s been on both sides like Maajid Nawaz (a former Islamist) knows better than those who only know the issue intellectually.

          Nawaz and Nasser are both Muslim too, so have a better handle on what other Muslims want.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I would have preferred Obama to call the extremists Islamic extremists practicing a literal and dangerous form of 7th century Islam that the majority of Muslims do not agree with. It is honest and would not lose him his allies or leave Muslims open to attack by dumb asses who don’t get it unless you spell it out.

          • Dermot C
            Posted February 21, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            Obama is shilly-shallying and he is behind the loop of many Muslim-dominated countries.

            Pew published on 1st July last year the results of this question, ‘Are you concerned/not concerned about Islamic extremism in our country?’ These were the results (‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned).

            Lebanon 92%: Tunisia 80%: Egypt 75%: Bangladesh 69%: Pakistan 66%: Palestinian Territories 65%: Malaysia 63%: Jordan 62%: Turkey 50%: Indonesia 39%.

            Negative opinions about al-Qaeda ranged from 96% in Lebanon via 59% in Palestine to 32% in Malaysia.

            I bet among those groups in the Islamic world you would find a lot of people who were prepared to call ‘Islamic extremism’, ‘Islamic terrorism’.

            Obama should declare solidarity with those people, the daily victims of Islamic violence and their enemies. And the minimum he could do is call the thing by its proper name: its victims know it. You don’t have time for euphemisms when you’re watching a crazed Islamic thug bury your child alive. x

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

          My thoughts exactly. The double speak Obama used was uncharacteristically dissembling.

    • Leeta
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      That is exactly right. We would lose strategic allies in fighting these psychos if we labeled them all psychos.

      I don’t think his – or any public figure’s – “political speak” reflects what they really feel/know.

  6. Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    On this side of the pond the issue is usually solved by referring to “Islamist terrorism”.

    Thus, the blame is on “Islamism” not on “Islam”.

    • Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Yes, a distinction worth noting since the jihadist ideology of “Islamism” appears entirely beyond rapprochement.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Whoops! Should have read you guys first before I carried on above – yes, describing Islamism is the key.

    • Henry Fitzgerald
      Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      That “solution” always makes me bristle. I was always under the impression that one stuck “ist” or “ism” on the end of the word in order to create a name for an ideology. I don’t know what it means when you stick it on the end of a word that already denotes an ideology.

      What’s next? Christianist? Comunismist? Islamistism?

      • GBJames
        Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        Andrew Sullivan uses the word “Christianist” all the time. It helps him separate his own faith position (liberal Catholic) from right wing theocrat types.

        But I agree with you. It is all word-play to avoid the central issue. If you accept faith as a legitimate justification for behavior it is ridiculous to think the “bad guy’s” version is somehow illegitimate.

  7. Lowen Gartner
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    The primary cause of Islamist terrorism is the Islamic fundamentalism cultivated by Saudi Arabia as a way of keeping their masses under the control of the princes. The amount spent by the Saudi government over the last 50 years to nurture and export these pernicious beliefs is astronomical.

    Islamist terrorism is the fruit of this weed and the only way to fight this is to have the Saudis and other governments of Muslim countries create a campaign to promote moderate Islam and marginalize the fundamentalists.

    Unfortunately, this is probably a multi-generational effort and not one they are willing to endorse.

    In the mean time, we get to build and sell more weapons.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      The previous king was trying to do that. I don’t know what the new king’s position is.

      • GBJames
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        If so, I don’t think the previous king was very good at his job.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

          It was basically him against heaps of Salafi imams, who fought him every step of the way. The fact that women will be able to vote at the next election was the old king’s doing. Anyone but the king saying the stuff he did would have gone the way of Raif Badawi et al.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:51 am | Permalink

            These are municipal elections, right? A Saudi king will be a real reformer — and Saudi Arabia will get to be a democracy — when the Saudi people get to vote on who gets to be king.

            • Posted February 21, 2015 at 1:04 am | Permalink

              And if you push them out of the nest too soon, they’ll be swallowed up by extremists, like and including Daesh.

              Things were different, 300-400 years ago. When our American founders decided to break off of the UK, they were surrounded by natives who lacked modern technology (of the times). Even 70 years ago, when India, Pakistan, and Israel came into being as modern nations, they were so heavily influenced by western culture, they could handle it. At the same time, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, etc., were set up, but with governments ruled by kings and dictators. Jordan’s king was even picked from a different tribal group than all the people under him.

              Those people, and all the rest who aren’t yet under the umbrella of a democracy, are likely, at this stage, to follow in the footsteps of the Gaza Strip, when the Israelis evacuated, or Egypt, when it had its Arab Spring: vote charismatic terrorists into office and then see all their freedoms disappear under an even more brutal regime than they endure, now.

              In Saudi Arabia, there is quite a problem. They old religious guard pretty much has to die out, I’d imagine, and be replaced with more liberal-minded imams willing to give up quite a bit of personal power. And, that’s just plain hard to imagine. Otherwise, if the king just proclaimed freedom, the imams would take it and take it away from the people, even if they had to convince the people to rebel against the king to do it.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:21 am | Permalink

                The problem with this view, docatheist, is that it is always “too soon”. Change either happens or it doesn’t. Existing conditions, having existed like they are for a long time, will always offer “too soon” as a reason to keep the status quo.

                As for waiting for waiting for the old religious guard to die out, you should look at the age of the prominent imams on Youtube. The problem isn’t the “old guard”, it is the “guard”.

                The only way to change this in the long haul, I think, is to honestly, vocally, insistently, publicly diminish the authority of faith itself. And that means refusing to pretend that Islamic violence has nothing to do with religion.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      The problem seems to stem from Arabian Wahhabism – a fundamentalist sect of Islam. In the 18th century he formed a pact with a local leader Muhammad bin Saud offering political obedience and promising that protection and propagation of the Wahhabi movement, would mean “power and glory” and rule of “lands and men.” The agreement is still in effect.
      Wikipedia – Wahhabism.
      Let me know when it’s over.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:07 am | Permalink

      I get the realpolitik of our strategic alliances with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — the first controls enough oil to set the world market; the latter has The Bomb, stolen for it by A.Q. Khan. But both governments have miserable human rights records as to their own people. And both, in their own way, purchase pacification within through policies that foment terrorism without. Thus, both are impediments to lasting regional peace, and U.S. support for them erodes U.S. credibility in the Muslim world.

      • Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Nuclear weapons are useless for offensive purposes. If Pakistan ever detonates a single bomb outside of its own territories, within the hour it’ll be a glassed-over parking lot after India and one or more of China, Israel, the US, NATO, or maybe even Russia preemptively retaliate. And the same applies to any other “lesser” nuclear nation-state. For the Big Three, of course, all Hell literally breaks loose and it’s game over for everybody.

        What The Bomb got for Pakistan was the “cooperative” treatment with the American military in the war against the Taleban, as opposed to the invasion that Afghanistan got.

        They obviously have their diplomatic uses, but I’ll be damned if I can think of a single meaningful military use of any nuclear explosive, short of elaborate forms of suicide.

        b&

  8. Randy Schenck
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I do not understand why Obama does not broaden his so-called group of advisers on these matters and Islam in particular. People like Peter Bergen could be a great help to him if he would listen. After nearly 15 years of operating in ignorance and stupidity, politically, the United States must do better than this.

    Its almost like, we have to somehow figure this out by ourselves, don’t help us or give us any hints. Don’t read up on the matter or accept any ideas from others. It is nothing but ridiculous to watch this political train wreck continue. I have little hope of any intelligence coming from Washington.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I have a lot of time for Peter Bergen. He’d be a good advisor on the subject imo.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      “I have little hope of any intelligence coming from Washington.”

      Ah, but state capitals – that’s where omniscience and omnibenevolence abides.

  9. Sastra
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    If Islam has nothing to do with the Islamic State then Muslims and scholars of Islam have no reason to analyze, question, and diminish the status of the Most Perfect Book Ever Written, one that was directly dictated by God. Until this is done and Muslims have no problem explicitly reinterpreting or rejecting entire sections of their Holy Book the passages which promote violence will continue to promote violence.

  10. Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    If I remember right, Sun Tzu wrote of the importance of knowing both yourself and your enemy. Obama’s self-imposed ignorance on the subject would seem to be a textbook example of how to plan ahead of time to lose a war.

    b&

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      It is kind of why we have been doing so since our disaster in Vietnam many years ago. I might add, knowing when not to start a war would be just as important.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      Yes, good point.

  11. Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Obama just gives more ammunition to the Obama-is-a-Muslim crowd.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Indeed I hear a republican hinting at this, saying Obama is saying what he is saying because he was surrounded by Muslims. He may be right as Obama spent time in countries with many Muslims, but the connection he draws is really a way to hint that Obama is a Muslim which is almost as bad as calling him an atheist when it comes politics.

  12. eric
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    The three-day conference on terrorism that Obama convened this week was called “Countering violent extremism.” The word “religious” might have been inserted before the last word.

    The US actually has a significant problem with right-wing political extremism; AIUI the FBI considers it as much or more of a potential problem as islamic religious terrorism. It just doesn’t make the news as much. So if the conference had covered that too, the label would’ve been correct. However it sounds like the conference was basically “all ISIS/Al-Qaeda and the like, all the time,” and if that’s the case, yeah, they should’ve titled it something more accurate like “Countering islamic terrorism.”

    More than 80% of the world’s terrorist attacks take place in five Muslim-majority countries

    That’s somewhat beside the point if the question is what should the U.S. be focusing on. We should want to know what factor is causing more than X% of the terrorist attacks on us. That factor seems to be right wing white supremacism, and the X is 66%: in the past fourteen years, there have been roughly twice as many right-wing political terrorist attacks on the US as there have been islamic terrorist attacks. But again, those don’t make the news.

    Yep, religion can spawn violent groups like ISIS. Nope, neither islam nor religion writ large is the driving force behind the majority of terrorist attacks occuring in the U.S. today…or even the last decade. Yep, we should fight them and this should influence our foreign policy. Nope, we should not focus on them (exclusively or even predominantly) in terms of domestic policy.

    • jay
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      “The US actually has a significant problem with right-wing political extremism; AIUI the FBI considers it as much or more of a potential problem as islamic religious terrorism”

      I see that CNN is pushing this headline this morning which strikes me as desparate hand-waving to change the subject.

      Other extremists (left, right, whatever) currently in the world come NOWHERE near what is being done by Islamic extremists. There was a statistic I read where all the US lynchings during a century the Jim Crow era were less than Boko Haram in a couple of months.

      And the comparable numbers of ‘right wing’ (I wonder who does the classification particularly of irrational people with no clear ideology) and Muslim terrorists ignores 9/11 and really speaks to the fact that there is not much terroristic activity here at the moment. Got to Europe, go just about anywhere, and the story is much different.

      But here’s a great chance to test the strategy: give the ‘right wingers’ jobs, then all will be well.

  13. scottoest
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I sort of half-understand Obama’s diplomatic reasons for insisting that ISIL are not Islamic in any way – keeping allies happy, and trying to suck the oxygen out of any brewing anti-Muslim violence against uninvolved western Muslims.

    That said, it seems pretty pointless to me. Obama can’t change the public’s understanding of what ISIL is motivated by, simply by repeating a lie over and over again. And furthermore, there’s something odious about Obama talking about how he’s dropping a big truth bomb in that speech, and then knowingly lying through his teeth over and over again.

    Lastly – I am so freaking tired of this “No Thr Scotsman” nonsense where any evil in the world perpetrated by religious convictions, is not “the true faith”. However, if someone does something good because of their religious convictions (like open a homeless shelter, or whatever), no one would doubt for a second that they were motivated by their faith.

    Where was it written that “true” fervent religious belief can only ever lead to good outcomes? Seems awfully convenient – particularly in light of all of the questionable passages in pretty much every holy text.

    • scottoest
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Should be “No True Scotsman” there. Must have blacked out at the keyboard for a moment!

  14. Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    The native tongue of the professional politician is spin.
    Of course the refusal to connect Islamic extremism to Islam is a rhetorical dodge and the President should stop doing it.
    Ahmed’s comment about the “Ivory Tower” is spot on and his denial could create political problems for the Dems in 2016 if Obama gets painted as unwilling to acknowledge the obvious and confront Islamic extremism.
    But I’m not convinced that his softball rhetoric is informing strategic decisions made in the situation room. It is entirely possible, if not probable, that the President’s priorities for oratory are different from his objectives as Commander-in-Chief.
    We are talking about the same individual who ultimately gave the final order to proceed with the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden.

  15. DrDroid
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that it’s important for our political leaders to state clearly that we believe in the right of all people to practice whatever religion they choose, or none at all. The US is open to all religions, including the Muslim religion. However, the US is also constitutionally committed to separation of church and state, so we are in categorical opposition to any group (e.g., ISIL) that wants to impose their religion on others. So the message to Muslims is this: You are free to practice your religion in the same way as others practice their religions, but we will not tolerate any actions whose purpose is to impose your religion on us or anyone else. This, it seems to me, is a principled statement that makes it clear that we are only “at war” with Muslims who want to impose their beliefs on others.

    • Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      But isn’t imposing their religion on the rest of the world a part of their religion?

      • DrDroid
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Yes I believe the Koran can be read as telling Muslims that their religion is destined to take over the world and they should get on with making it happen by whatever means necessary. But there are “liberal” Muslim reformers like Majiid Nawaz who want to see Islam reformed to be more acceptable in modern societies. This, of course, would happen in much the same way it happened to Christianity: the worst parts of the holy book get ignored or reinterpreted. I wish Majiid much luck in his attempt to reform Islam, and maybe he, as a Muslim, is the only kind of guy who could conceivably be accepted by Muslims at large. But for me, all religions fail to pass the test of reason, so why not just abandon them?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 21, 2015 at 1:59 am | Permalink

        Isn’t imposing their religion on the rest of the world a part of many Christian denominations? They have, mostly, learnt to regard that as an aspirational message, not an essential imperative. Hopefully most Muslims can see it that way too.

  16. Gordon Hill
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    It’s as Islamic as the KKK is Christian.

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      A more apt analogy: it’s as Islamic as Christian Inquisition was Christian.

  17. rickflick
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Islam has come a long way over the past 1000 years. At that time it was a as violent as ISIS is today. But most Muslims by now have dropped the idea of a caliphate and try to work with the world as it is. In that sense ISIS and Al-Qaeda are a throwback. It seems Obama would be safe in formulating around the idea that the terrorists are Islamic, but of the wrong era, and fight them on that basis.

    • Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      As accurate as your analysis is…were Obama to go that far in his remarks, it would instantly get translated as a revival of the Crusades.

      b&

      • rickflick
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        If he reaches out to me I’ll give him a piece of your mind.

        • Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          Gee, thanks…just what I always wanted…my own personal “interview” with Secret Service agents….

          b&

  18. Mark R.
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    On this issue, Obama consistently fails the “Duck Test”. What’s more disheartening is this “duck” is not only quacking, but actually saying it: “I am a duck”.
    “Oh no you aren’t,” says Obama; he almost sounds patronizing.

    • Nicolas Perrault
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Obama is a kind of theologian. Only he can tell us what Islam really is. He defines Islam in such a way that it cannot be violent.

  19. Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    The best course of action for US politicians would be to stay out of these absurd theoretical discussions. With his choosing of words, President Obama has intensified a debate that shouldn’t have been existed in the first place. No one felt the urge to avoid calling groups like the Red Brigades Marxist and claim that they had perverted the holy teachings of Carl Marx!

    I think people like Reza Aslan should not be taken seriously. After all, Aslan does not accept literal interpretation of Qur’an (which can be considered heresy) and claims that there are “many” other interpretations equally valid and yet more tolerant. He would be better off if he took his own claim more seriously and worked to present the world a rather reasonable, logically-inferred-from-Islamic-texts interpretation of Islam.

    But then I guess, this kind of project is much harder than it seems at the first glance (in fact people like Hamed Abu-zaid have actually tried and barely escaped with their lives!) So he attacks others just to draw attention to himself and acquire a little bit of popularity in the meantime.

    That’s sad. The very existence of characters like Reza Aslan is another defeat for Mr.Obama’s promotion of moderate Islam. If Aslan is the best moderate Muslims can come up with, then they haven’t come up with much. Therefore, It is still better to ignore them altogether and continue to criticize Islam in enlightenment-era fashion.

  20. Randy Schenck
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Twitter must be the place for stupid. First we have Rudy stating Obama does not love America like he does and now a Senator says well maybe he only loves it 3/5th as much as Rudy and his boys.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I think the Senator in question (Steve Cohen) was intending to criticize Giuliani’s stupid comment, by implying that it’s racist, not endorse it:

      http://bit.ly/1GcQL3l

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      But, yes, you’re right.. in general T***ter is a place for stupidity. A few can rise above it, but in general it seems to have a corrosive effect on all who use it.

    • Mike Paps
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Rudy may well have been motivated by racism, but I kinda see where he’s coming from. Obama is the first president who seems largely, and almost without reservation, to buy into the proposition that America’s policies are almost entirely blame for our problems abroad. Particularly where terrorism is concerned.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Next Giuliani will be lecturing Obama on how his children should behave in public. (Re: Giuliani’s son’s behavior several years ago.)

  21. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    To claim that the cruelty practiced by Isis has nothing to do with Islam is just as false as the assertion that the inquisition had nothing to do with Catholicism.

  22. gluonspring
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The Crown Prince of Bahrain wrote an article noting that we are “In a fight to the death with theocrats” (http://bit.ly/17GlLNO). I thought that was a pretty good way to describe it and I personally like “theocrats” better than the term “Islamists”. “Islamists” is more of a recent coinage and, to my ear at least, may not properly lump in people who, while not violent themselves, nonetheless are supporters of theocracy. Anyone who is a supporter of theocracy is pouring gasoline on the violent fire even if they, themselves, are not condoning violence to that end.

  23. Curt Nelson
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I’d say the reason Obama is insisting on not connecting Islam with the terrorists is to avoid starting a religious war. That’s a pretty good reason to “not go there.”

    • GBJames
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      That horse has left the stable. Religious war has been going on for quite a long while.

      • gluonspring
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough. Though being at a slow burn war is one thing, going white hot, with the comcomitant millions dead, is another. Given the passions involved, the latter does not seem out of the realm of possibility. Personally, I’d rather have a few decades of slow burn war instead of five years of cataclysm. I know a lot of people would prefer the latter, however.

        I wouldn’t go so far as to defend Obama’s prevarications on this point, but I can say that I sympathize with the situation he is in. A lot of people portray Obama’s soft peddling of the role of Islam in terrorism and atrocities in other parts of the world as an attempt to appease Muslims. That may be. But if I were in his position I’d be at least as worried about inflaming our own nation’s religious zealots who would be all too happy to engage in a global war to wipe out Islam or, at the least, to begin terrorizing every Muslim they can. I don’t know what spark that would take, but if I were President I’d be fairly concerned about being the one who lights it. I wouldn’t go so far as to deny or hide the Islam connection as he has, but I would definitely choose my words carefully.

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Clarification: I wouldn’t go so far as he has, to deny or hide the Islam connection. But I would definitely choose my words carefully.

          I would say it, but carefully.

          • GBJames
            Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:05 am | Permalink

            I don’t think anyone here is a fan of poorly chosen words. At issue are carefully chosen falsehoods. They don’t help anything.

        • Filippo
          Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          “Being president is like being a mule out in a hailstorm; you just have to stand there and take it.”

          – Lyndon Johnson

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        No it hasn’t. Not like on the scale it could go on – a World War type scale an order of magnitude or two greater than now. That is what could happen and is ripe to happen if our president starts calling all this trouble muslim trouble – just what ISIS is begging for, a global religious war. Yikes.

        I vote for restraint. Calling a spade a spade is not good diplomacy. It would only serve to anger Muslims world-wide, and for what, Intellectual honesty? Not worth it.

        The lesson to take from this is not that this is what Islam is really about, it’s that this is what religion brings us – horrific violence like this, which is just the big bad brother of countless other religion inspired ills that anyone can list off and that will kill us all eventually. (What a downer. Sorry.)

        • Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

          Nobody’s calling for a crusade on Islam, and even if they were, it wouldn’t spread into WWIII. Your typical first-world nation has many times the firepower in conventional weapons alone than the Islamic world has in nuclear weapons.

          And we’re most emphatically not calling for crusade on Islam.

          All we want is for Obama to stop playing imam and telling Muslims what the proper interpretation of Islam is.

          Nobody has any problem identifying, for example, the Westboro Baptist Church as a Christian organization motivated by their faith — even as many would fall over themselves to make clear that Phelps’s interpretation of Christianity most emphatically isn’t one they personally share and that they find incorrect and abhorrent. The same would work perfectly well in the case of the Caliphate.

          b&

          • Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:10 am | Permalink

            Google “Seven Mountains.” Then, after learning what that’s about, google “Dominionists.” Finally, google things like “Jesus rifles”, “Jesus loves nukes”, and a cover story from several years ago, entitled “Jesus Killed Muhammed.” And, remember: When GW invaded Iraq, he actually called it a “crusade.”
            In terms of physics, the Islamists had some force, but we added elastic recoil by giving them a modern day Crusader mentality to put back against. Even worse, our modern day Crusaders, who’ve made a point of infiltrating government to destroy the wall of separation between church and state, have also infiltrated our military — oh,yeah, see if you can find that religious propaganda video filmed inside the Pentagon, almost ten years ago, proving to all the world that our military is a Christian force fighting for a Christian country. Want more? Let me know.

            • GBJames
              Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:13 am | Permalink

              All of that is true. But none of it is a reason to pretend that religion isn’t motivating Islamic extremism. (I’m not sure if you were suggesting that or not. I’m not sure who you are saying is “right” in you note below.)

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

                I see that you’ve missed my point, and the point to which I was responding. From your many recent comments, it appears you are completely focused on one thing. Therefore, let me not distract you further, either here or to follow your response to another comment of mine, elsewhere in this string.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                I think the thing I’m focused on is the subject of the original post. I assume that’s what others are talking about, too. The idea that Islamic extremism exists as a response to Christian “crusaders” seems wrong to me and a distortion of history. That seemed to be your argument. If I misunderstood, let me know.

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

                I would be awful at naming names and providing accurate historical context, however, this movement began in the mid to late 1940s, including its military arm, and started to come out of the closet during the Bush II era. It is news to most of us, despite our knowing of the US/Soviet Cold War, the addition of “under God” to our Pledge and “In God We Trust” to our monies, but there have been some trying to get the word out. See here: “American Evangelicals and the US Military 1942 to 1993”, by Anne C. Loveland (http://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/080712091X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o08_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1). Also, I just found that the organization “Americans United for Separation of Church and State” was founded in 1947. So, mass media has kept us in the dark, but someone saw what was coming down the line.

                The American side of this religious war didn’t just start after 9/11, much less as a reaction to 9/11. Theocracy has been growing and developing all around us, quietly, for generations, and it’s now in our legislatures, was in our presidency, and continues in our military.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                If you’re going to play that game, the “American side” started long before that. Let’s include the First Barbary War and the events that led to that, too. No?

                History goes way back. Religion has been part of conflict between the west and Islamic societies for many, many, centuries.

                Some of us have made more progress in escaping the religious burden of that history than others. The two sides are not equivalent in modern times.

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                Sadly, I think you missed my point, again.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps you can state it more clearly then.

            • Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I’m fully aware that the US military is thoroughly infested with Christians. But I really don’t see them attempting a coup in order to bring about Armageddon in response to a Presidential acknowledgement that some of our enemies overseas are motivated by non-Christian religions….

              b&

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Actually, it’s not “Christians” I’m concerned with but their extremist counterparts, the Dominionists. Consider two camps of Christians: First are those who believe Jesus will come, Armageddon and End Times, and all that stuff will follow, and that’s that. Second are those who believe, instead of waiting, they’re biblically directed to cause Armageddon and End Times, in order to bring “the Second Coming” of Jesus, and they’re trigger-happy, waiting for the word or sign to get started.

                Now, if any from that second group happens to have a dream, one night, in which Jesus or God comes to him/her and says, “Do it! Do it, now!”, do you think he or she will ask up their chain of command for permission from the President? Okay, what if it’s their chaplain or preacher who has that dream for them and comes to them, directing them to fire off our nuclear weaponry? If it takes two to simultaneously push the right buttons, one wacky pastor with a pair of missileer followers could make that happen, or one wacky pastor and a follower above them anywhere along the chain of command, especially inside the Pentagon. Who’s going to question an order originating inside the Pentagon?

                Our Christian extremists and the Umma’s Muslim extremists have the same goals and different weaponry. One might even say we are in a modern day, cold-war version of the Crusades, right now.

                Pardon if this sounds extremist or conspiracy-theorist, but it fits too well what I was seeing, in the military and stationed in the national capitol area. I had such a Dominioinist commander. Many in his command were very uncomfortable over it, but too many were not.

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

                The Dominionists are worrisome, sure, and I’d be the first to agree that such religious devotion should be a disqualification for public, especially military, service.

                But I still just don’t see Dr. Strangelove actually playing out in the real world.

                b&

              • Posted February 22, 2015 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                Ben, remember when the Pentagon was specifically attacked, on 9/11/2001? It was already pretty secure, in that not just anyone could walk in the door. Here’s a video done within a few short years of that incident: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/Media_video/christian-embassy/. Notice: It was filmed within the Pentagon, during the duty day, and yet, it is to advertize (evangelize, really) for a specific (indeed, sectarian) non-military organization. That’s not legal. It includes high ranking military members in uniform, during the duty day, to symbolize that they, speaking on behalf of the military, representing all of us, are there just to talk about Jesus and Christianity. That, too, is illegal. And, there’s more. You’ll see. What happened to those in the film, once a complaint was pushed through the DoD? “It’s all good”, as they say. No one’s career was hurt, some were actually enhanced, in the long run.

                Granted, it was during the GWBush era, but Obama hasn’t been able to undo it, thanks to having his hands full and being undermined by the Dominionists among Rebiblican legislators and military hierarchy.

              • Posted February 23, 2015 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                Again, I’m not trying to diminish the problem of the Dominionists. I’m just suggesting that Dr. Strangelove scenarios isn’t something I lose sleep over and not an end game I think is particularly realistic.

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted February 22, 2015 at 7:28 am | Permalink

                I guess I sit somewhere between you two fellows… I do see the Christian theocrats in the US as a serious threat… I think I may be influenced by the remarkable way that extremist Republicans took and maintain control in my own traditionally progressive state. I can see paths by which theocrats could take control of the country, although it seems unlikely.

                But, that does not come close to asserting an equivalence between our current social/political situation and what prevails in countries where Islam predominates. And consequently it doesn’t come close to giving “balance” to dreadful acts that occur on the two sides.

              • Posted February 22, 2015 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

                I’m with you on the issue of balance — currently. So long as Muslim extremists steal the limelight, though, Dominionists can continue to gain ground in the shadows. To ignore the latter, because they’re not (yet) as bad as the former would be a mistake. It was still in my lifetime when Christian extremists of a different sort were terrorizing blacks, openly committing atrocities equal to those of Daesh, albeit on a far smaller scale, including public torture and immolation, and claiming that right on the basis of their religious beliefs. I’m old, but I’m not that old, so this wasn’t long enough ago that it should be forgotten history.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted February 23, 2015 at 1:31 am | Permalink

                Possibly the big difference is that now we have the Internet and Youtube videos to publicise DAESH’s atrocities…?

        • Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

          FWIW, I think you’re right.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:11 am | Permalink

          Curt… we are talking about whether the horse is in the sable or not, not the size of the horse or the condition of the sable.

          Why do you guys who “call for restraint” insist that the alternative to being honest is declaring crusades? It isn’t.

          And how on grid’s green earth can you simultaneously say that Islam isn’t a motivator for Islamic violence but it is still the “big bad brother of countless other religion inspired ills that anyone can list off and that will kill us all eventually”. The only way to maintain those two ideas at once is to assert that Islam isn’t a religion. That’s where prevarication and linguistic dissembling gets you.

          • Curt Nelson
            Posted February 21, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

            I didn’t say that anyone is calling for crusades, but that crusades may be the result of the president making the point that this is some Islamic shit going on.

            Do you think Obama doesn’t appreciate that religion is behind it all and that he needs to in order to understand the true nature of the problem, or that he needs to in order to accurately inform Americans so they can know how to feel about it? Or is it that he does know and he’s not being straight about it because it wouldn’t be PC in general, to be dissing religion?

            Of course he knows, and the reason he’s not saying it is because he’s aware that it wouldn’t help to say it, that it would only inflame Muslims worldwide to hear the president of the united states blame their religion. Muslims are already feeling paranoid – that’s why the parking space shootings were immediately viewed as anti-Muslim.

            Why does it bug you that the president isn’t blaming Islam? Because he needs acknowledge the truth? Because the truth will improve the situation? How?

            To me, the only way to frame it is in terms of religion generally, and of course the president can’t do that either, but everyone else can.

          • GBJames
            Posted February 21, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

            Of course he knows. He’s a very smart man. He has decided that it is better to dissemble on the subject than to speak bluntly and honestly. He fears, I’m sure, that honesty will inflame things.

            If we don’t truthfully describe the problem we’re facing there is no way we can ever confront it. Islamic extremism will not dissipate if we all just chant “Islam is a religion of peace” in unison. It will dissipate only when enough people honestly talk about what the nature of the problem is and when that conversation is loud and direct enough to be heard by vast majority of peaceful Muslims who none-the-less accept the horrors of their faith tradition (death for apostasy, floggings and worse for blasphemy, etc.).

            If we can’t even speak obvious facts out loud, how in the hell will any progress can be made?

            • Curt Nelson
              Posted February 21, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

              The facts should be spoken out loudly just not by the president. How would that be anything but inflammatory and produce negative consequences? Would you say to your spouse: “Gosh, you’ve become quite a fatty, you’ve really lost it.”?

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                Not saying untruths is an option, no?

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                Erm…first, we’re not married to DAESH. Nor are we married to the other Islamic states in the region.

                Second…well, if you really do love your wife, and if she really has become quite a fatty and really lost it…well, in that case, you’ll be honest with her and work with her to start eating better and moving more. And that’ll involve sitting down and honestly telling her that she’s not doing herself any favors, but that, because you love her, you’re there for her and you’re going to stand with and by her on the road back to health.

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                If you can’t bring yourself to tell your wife the truth you still have the option of saying nothing. Your not going to improve anyone’s life by telling her she is too thin and needs to put on a few pounds.

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                …and, of course, the elephant in the room is that you might actually like it that she’s quite a fatty who’s lost it….

                b&

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                Oh, boy! Speaking “the elephant in the room!”

              • Curt Nelson
                Posted February 22, 2015 at 8:37 am | Permalink

                Oh god, you’re all right! But it’s me. I’m the fatty. I’ve lost it, and it’s time I faced it.

                Thank you. I already feel 100 pounds lighter.

  24. Roan Ridgeway
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    How do you convince Iraqi Sunnis to take up arms against ISIS/ISIL Sunnis if you don’t make a distinction between the Islam each party practices?

    In this 8 minute video, Fareed Zakaria, as interviewed by Anderson Cooper, explains the president’s avoidance that is angering Dr. Coyne and many others (former Islamic extremist, Maajid Nawaz, also weighs in):

    http://www.snappytv.com/tc/484505

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      That’s one of the better TV segments I’ve seen in awhile: both guest were actually able to talk. Of course, I think Nawaz was closer to right. The lynchpin is getting more of Islam to abandon theocracy as an operative goal, whether pursued violently or not. Somehow, and I have no idea how, Islam needs to have a Lockean moment.

  25. Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    After all that hassle with word press, trying to log in, being told the pass word I’ve used for years is not the “RIGHT” pass word, having to type same pass word I’ve used for years as if it were a new pass word, get the new/same old pass word validated, I forgot what my comment was, oh well, some days are like this.

  26. Posted February 20, 2015 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    🐾

  27. Posted February 20, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Obama. I went to a Jesuit high school in Spokane, 1956 to 1960, and in 1958 a group of some of the cool guys decided to go Cuba and help Fidel Castro defeat the dictator Batista. They didn’t know anything about Castro’s politics but they knew they’d like to do something about Batista. They didn’t actually make it but they were swept away with a romanticism of a just war against evil.

    A few years later, after I had already joined the Air Force, the Vietnam war started up. But in this case there wasn’t anyone who wanted to defend President Diem against the North Vietnamese. Here there was no warrior romanticism.

    By saying we’re in a holy war against Islam is only going to render it romantic to all those young Muslim men out there. Calling them radical Islamists only aggrandizes and legitimizes a warrior status and is going to fill the ISIS ranks. We need to be fighting a war against thugs, thieves, and murderers, not radical Islamists. By calling them radical Islamists we are only joining in with the ISIS propaganda machine. What Obama is calling for is the right thing.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      How is calling Islamic extremism “Islamic extremism” the same thing as declare “holy war against Islam”? These are not the same thing. They ARE radical Islamists. Calling them blue turtles or “nasty nasty poop-heads” won’t change that fact.

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      “We need to be fighting a war against thugs, thieves, and murderers”

      That’s a job for police.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        Well, we’re not sending them to Syria, you know.

        I like the idea of using “thugs, thieves, and murderers” as often as possible.

        “The thugs, thieves, and murderers who comprise extremist Islam…”

        “ISIS, a group of thieving, murderous Islamist thugs…”

        • Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

          Works for me!

          b&

        • Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:02 am | Permalink

          Regarding what to call them, there’s always DAESH.

        • Scientifik
          Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:51 am | Permalink

          “Well, we’re not sending them to Syria, you know.”

          I know, and that’s why IMO it’s inappropriate to call them mere thieves and thugs. People in the Middle East don’t have a problem with increased crime rate.

          They have a problem with raging Islamist ideology.

          All the killings and abuses of human rights are the effects of this Islamist ideology.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      “By calling them radical Islamists we are only joining in with the ISIS propaganda machine.”

      I think that a reasonable point, considering Obama’s dealing with a mass of brainwashed/brainwashable primates who can hardly bear the weight of the “offended” chip they are bearing on their shoulders.

      I wonder if they would get the sarcasm if he rather said that Daesh represented the avatar, the zenith, the apotheosis of civilization. ( For some reason I’m thinking of the photo of U.S. prisoners of war at the “Hanoi Hilton” extending the “universal sign of friendship.”)

      • Scientifik
        Posted February 20, 2015 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Do you really think that it really matters to them so much how some Western kafir is calling them or whether he’s giving legitimacy to their Holy Caliphate or not?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 21, 2015 at 2:13 am | Permalink

          I’m sure it matters to them. I think ISIS would _love_ to be recognised as a true nation-state. Half of what they do is designed for public consumption, they want the world to notice them (and be afraid of them). This is surely the reason they keep committing atrocities – it gets them noticed.

          • Scientifik
            Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:58 am | Permalink

            “I think ISIS would _love_ to be recognised as a true nation-state. ”

            I don’t think they really care about what international law says about a “true nation state”, so long as they believe their actions are justified by their holy books.

        • Posted February 21, 2015 at 3:55 am | Permalink

          Of course not. But it matters to what others think and how they deal with ISIS *and* to people’s attitudes towards Muslims “of good will”.

          /@

        • Filippo
          Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:34 am | Permalink

          “Do you really think that it really matters to them so much how some Western kafir is calling them or whether he’s giving legitimacy to their Holy Caliphate or not?”

          I think you’re right about “them” – “Daesh” and their ilk. But they aren’t the ones to whom Obama is speaking in rather dulcet tones.

    • Posted February 20, 2015 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      Good to know. Thank you for your service, adn thank you for sharing that information.

  28. Scientifik
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m waiting for Obama to tell us who is and who isn’t Islamic in the religious conflict between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m waiting for Obama to tell us who is and who isn’t Islamic in the religious conflict between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims.”

      How long shall one wait for the media to ask him that question?

  29. Keith Cook or more
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    The wider veiw: tell it how it is or we will forever remain shuffling around on the same ground for eternity. Is the truth as bad as what we have to contend with now, ignorence, violence, hate, misogyny, misery, stupidity.
    Pandering political diplomacy is a possum in headlights.. Obama is that one click of the rachet from moving just that little further away from the grasp of ancient deceptions.
    To wit, the truth about extreme religious violence, it’s motivation, it’s source would go a long way to keeping humanity on track to a safer world.

  30. Posted February 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Check out David Brooks on the PBS NewsHour tonight. He actually argued that ISIS is inspired by religion.

  31. Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    A lot of the people who have been killed by ISIS and Al Qaeda were Muslims. It would seem to me that a President would be ill advised to declare war on them on top of all that.

    The real enemy, from his point of view, is not Islam but these specific people who claim to represent that religion but who in fact do not.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 20, 2015 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      “The real enemy, from his point of view, is not Islam but these specific people who claim to represent that religion but who in fact do not.”

      Do they not in fact represent Islam because someone SAYS so? They SAY they do. Who am I, or anyone, to deny the efficacy of what they SAY?

      That’s the thing about religion; something is so because someone simply and solely SAYS so.

      • Posted February 20, 2015 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        From what I read most Muslims do not support ISIL or Al Qaeda. So it is fair to conclude that these groups are not representative.

        • Filippo
          Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:52 am | Permalink

          Are Southern Baptists (the largest Protestant denomination, but fill in the blank as you please) representative of Christianity?

          Is Catholicism, by virtue of having the largest membership (if I correctly understand), most representative of Christianity?

          Same with Shia v. Sunni.

          Unlike not a few adherents of the above, I have not been vouchsafed a revelation providing guidance.

          • Posted February 21, 2015 at 7:56 am | Permalink

            Sort of agrees with my point. The answer is the same – there is no acknowledged authority.

  32. Posted February 20, 2015 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    These guys are Islamic Nihilists.

    It seems that Obama is feeling pressured to use the tactic of sidestepping the Islamic label, in deference to the Muslim countries in the alliance. The alliance has unfortunately been showing some cracks, namely between Qatar and Egypt. This war can’t be won without the help, guidance and willingness of the countries in the Arabian Peninsula. There does seem to be a need for immediate pragmatism, for the sake of the alliance, an alliance that needs to be expanded to include Saudi Arabia if at all possible. I just hope this doesn’t come back to bite us in the butt.

    • Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      Eh…Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room. They are the problem. They’ve been funding the nutjobs from the beginning, either directly or indirectly. It’s often been in order to destabilize their neighbors in a game of international power politics…but it’s not like what ISIS is doing is any different from what life is already like in Saudi Arabia. I mean, you do know that Saudi Arabia chops off the heads of people far more frequently than ISIS does, right? And for the exact same reasons?

      b&

      • Posted February 21, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        They certainly had a hand in supporting ISIS at first but now even they are under threat. They realize they did something stupid.

        http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-saudi-arabia-iraq-syria-bandar/373181/
        http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/06/saudi-arabia-anxious-ideological-links-isis

        I’m thinking outside the box and looking at this problem from the standpoint of if and when there’s a world war. It might be a case of having to keep your enemies closer.

        • Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          The House of Saud may or may not realize that they’ve been idiots…but, if they do, it’s guaranteed that they don’t realize the theological nature of the problem. They’re on the exact same religious page as DAESH; the differences are only ones of power politics between rivaling warlords.

          When Saudi Arabia stops torturing and beheading people for trivial non-offenses, when they stop indiscriminately raping and enslaving women, when they stop with all the rest of the barbarity that’s the hallmark of both DAESH and the Saudi Kingdom, then I’ll believe that they’re not as bad as DAESH.

          b&

        • GBJames
          Posted February 21, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          The Saudis have been funding extremist Wahhabi religion around the world for many, many, decades. ISIS is nothing but the fruit of the poison vine they’ve been tending. When we fail to recognize this simple historical fact we allow no possible solution to the problem.

          • Posted February 21, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

            I acknowledge all of that, Ben and GB. Thanks for the input. But how can we change the wellspring of these fanatical ideas? Should we isolate or engage them? I don’t have the answers. Any suggestions on how this terrible problem of ISIS and Islamic extremism of various stripes can be solved?

            • GBJames
              Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

              The only way to confront fanatical ideas is to explicitly, honestly, and consistently call them out for what they are. Islamic extremism is not going to disappear soon. I’m sure it won’t be in my lifetime. But I do know that it will take longer if we don’t talk openly about how religion poisons everything and Islam can not be excused from the criticism.

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                Call Out: Does anyone here recall details of any studies done which showed that the more one confronts religious superstition with reality, truth and facts, the more the believer hunkers down in his/her belief, rejecting every argument against it? I recall reading about such studies — here, on PCC’s website — in the past. Maybe someone recalls details?

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                The Backfire Effect : http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/

                I’ve certainly seen this discussed elsewhere, although I don’t recall it hereabouts.

                /@

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

                Thank you, Ant. I also found this: http://www.npr.org/2014/03/04/285580969/when-it-comes-to-vaccines-science-can-run-into-a-brick-wall. It’s Shankar Vedantam, on NPR’s Hidden Brain segment, describing the same sort of thing with regard to vaccines, rather than religion. (Maybe that is what I was thinking of, and my “hidden brain” generalized without specifically telling me.)

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                Ah! I found it. It was Shankar Vedantam, on NPR’s Hidden Brain segment, talking about vaccinations, beliefs, and that giving correct information to parents running on incorrect beliefs could actually make things worse, rather than the truth making things better. Here’s the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/03/04/285580969/when-it-comes-to-vaccines-science-can-run-into-a-brick-wall. Apparently, my “hidden brain” generalized the study’s results, but maybe that generalization will prove to be valid.

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

                Also this: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

                Again, not about religion; politics, this time.

                /@

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                Wow, you’re good! Politics is the topic, here, so that’s a more specifically fitting article, too. While I repeated myself — apologies, all. Guess I better get some sleep…zzzz…

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                Wait until you see his puns!

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

                LOL! Have done, and much enjoyed them, too!

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

                Well, I do scatter them about with apundance …

                /@

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

                LOL!

              • Posted February 21, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                These things take time, and the audience is much more than a single individual.

                That a fanatic should initially dig in his heels is what is predicted by Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Whether or not he eventually lets go of his insanity depends on what follows on.

                If the confrontation with reality is just a brief blip on his radar, that may well be the end of it.

                However, if he’s constantly subjected to ridicule for being a complete and total blithering fucking idiot for falling for such palpable nonsense…well, yes, he’ll keep digging in his heels. And then he’ll stop broadcasting his idiocy — and, frankly, that’s enough change for me. But many will continue to examine their insanity even after they’ve gone underground…and, after enough time, they’ll emerge into the world of the sane.

                It works at many levels less than full-on “strident” ridicule. Simply making them aware of contradictions, both internal contradictions in the religion and contradictions between the religion and reality, will also increase the cognitive dissonance; when the dissonance reaches the breaking point, that’s when deconversion happens. Many of the regulars here can tell you personal stories of exactly how that happens.

                The smarter ones will discover a small chink in the religion chain, tug at it, and see that it actually isn’t that hard to work loose. And then they keep chipping away at it all by themselves. They, in turn, become chinks in other people’s chains….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 22, 2015 at 1:15 am | Permalink

                Some what true, although many will never become sane no matter how many years go by.

              • Posted February 22, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                Absolutely.

                But there will be far fewer of them in each succeeding generation.

                The day will come when the Sistine Chapel serves the same function as the Parthenon does today. When was the last time anybody worshipped Athene? Yet it’s a certainty that her last worshippers died of old age in their beds long after priests stopped making sacrifices to her at the Parthenon.

                b&

              • Posted February 22, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                Now, that is very encouraging to consider.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 22, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

                What Ben said.

                Sure, many will go to their graves insisting that the sun is pulled across the heavens on a chariot. That is to be expected. But “wars of ideas” can’t be won if you don’t push the good ones and ridicule the stupid ones.

  33. Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Let’s say ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. But interestingly enough, ISIS has answers for other allegedly true issues that led to its creation. Take history of colonialism for example. When ISIS destroyed the border between Iraq and Syria, it cheerfully declared that it had in fact destroyed a colonial-era phenomenon: Sykes–Picot Agreement! This kind of propaganda may seem weird until you truly understand how conspiracy theory has become an integral part of the middle eastern mindset.

    But ISIS claims that it has the solution: ISLAM. Muslims do not recognize pacts among non-Muslims and destroy such pacts through Jihad and thus the evil borders drawn by the British and the French are gone! Another problem solved, another wound inflicted by Kuffar healed!

    But now we are back to square one: ISLAM. It seems all roads lead to it. That’s why this debate must be stopped. It is nonsensical and in the end there is no escape from somehow taking the religion of Islam into account when you want to really understand these guys.

  34. Mike Paps
    Posted February 21, 2015 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Bill Maher tonight: Obama had his big terrorism summit this week. He invited a lot of Muslim groups to the white house to say terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. To which they said “Then why are we here, Why didn’t you invite a bunch of Presbyterians”


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