Wednesday, 15 June 2016

What's in a name: Islam, Islamist, Jihadist...

President Obama has refused to use the term "radical Islam,"
following a precedent set by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush,
who said after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that "ours is not a campaign
against the Muslim faith."
In the wake of the Orlando shootings, a war of words.  The right criticise Obama for not saying it's "radical islamic terrorism".  Obama and the left answer that it doesn't matter what it's called, it makes no difference to the war.
This morning, Obama was arrogantly contemptuous of those calling for him to "name it what it is".
His line is that it gives legitimises ISIL (as he's wont to call what most others call ISIS).  It gives them what they want: to represent Islam, whereas they "don't represent Islam", he says, "they have perverted Islam".
Two points here:
First, whether or not Obama uses the words "radical Islamic/Islamist" terrorism, most of the rest of the world does.  So if indeed ISIS are looking for some sort of affirmation (a doubtful likelihood, in my view), they've got it from planty of others, including from many political leaders.
Second, in what way does ISIS "not represent" Islam, or "pervert" it?  He doesn't say.  Much as he might not wish to litigate theological issues, he's done so already by simply claiming that ISIS "do not represent Islam", and then leaving it at that.  He makes that statement; it's incumbent on him to say on what basis he makes that conclusion.
In fact, of course, there are many experts, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who claim most cogently that ISIS is indeed representative of Islam.  An ultra-strict  and violent representation, to be sure, but a representation nonetheless.  One of the best on this is Graeme Wood in his "What ISIS really wants".
And let's not forget that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a doctoral graduate of the Bagdad University, a scholar -- and therefore expert -- in Islam.  His writings and speeches, and the magazine Dubiq published monthly by ISIS, are replete with scholarly reflections on Islam.  It may all be terribly uncomfortable to recognise this, but ignoring it is dangerous. If Obama were to recognise it, and talk of "radical Islamic/Islamist" terrorism, that would be the start of a more robust reaction. Mosques could be challenged to clamp down on radical teachings.  Moderate Muslims more directly encouraged to face up to the clear and urgent challenges they have in their religion (and not just some "extremist" terrorism, the source of which is  profoundly mysterious).
Here's a little more on the linguistics of war: "Radical Islam, Or Radical Islamism?  It Depends Whom You Ask".  Though I would note that Hillary now saying that she would use either "Radical Islamism" or "Radical Jihadism" is a big departure from a year ago, when she was more along the Obama line on not using either term, which at least is a bit of an advance on the Obama position.
From which position he asks:
"What exactly would using this label accomplish?" President Obama asked Tuesday as he spoke about his administration's fight against ISIS. He spoke at length about the language debate. "Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction."
But his administration, by purging the words "Islam" or "Islamism" from the bureaucracy has meant that they no longer learn the ideology of Islam or Islamism.  Learning about that, in the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, DoD, etc, is verboten.  So there would indeed be something accomplished by "using this label", Mr Obama. "Calling a threat a different name", if that name is more correct (which it surely is) allows a clear-headed analysis of that it stands for, it allows us to "know the enemy" better.  
And that's no "distraction", Sir.