You are here

ISIS: What's in a Name?

President Obama has gotten a lot of criticism from Congressional Republicans over his rhetoric about the terrorist group ISIS. According to Ted Cruz, the president is "an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists" due to his refusal to refer to ISIS as an Islamic organization.

At his recent Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, President Obama defended his terminology, saying, "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." By refusing to play along, the United States is denying these groups the legitimacy they seek. This matters especially in the eyes of mainstream Westernized Muslims who don't want to be caught between loyalty to Islamic values and loyalty to Western values. That includes Muslim citizens in the United States as well as Muslim nations in the Middle East. The U.S. is trying to walk a fine line between seeking support from Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and standing firm against violent extremists. Calling ISIS an Islamic terrorist group could harm our relationship with our allies in the region, thereby tipping the balance in ISIS' favor.

That's why the president is careful to make statements like, "They’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam," and "The terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology."

This idea is not original to President Obama. President George W. Bush made the same distinction when referring to Al Qaeda. "Our enemy doesn’t follow the great traditions of Islam. They’ve hijacked a great religion," he said, and, "There are thousands of Muslims who proudly call themselves Americans, and they know what I know — that the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion."

Earlier this month at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama went a step further by reminding Christians that our religion too has been hijacked by extremists in the past. This statement was also roundly criticized by many of his opponents, but it was defended by one prominent Republican pundit. New York Times columnist David Brooks said:

We are most in moral danger to ourselves when we are caught up in a righteous fervor against an evil foe. Which is what we have. So while we exercise hard power, we have to take morally hazardous action, we are prone to get caught up in our own self-righteousness. This is exactly the moment you want this.

Brooks—and Obama—have pinpointed the danger precisely. When dealing with ISIS, a self-righteous group whose aim is to vanquish its enemies and silence all critics, the last thing we want to do is become just like them.

360 users have voted.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer