After a meeting with the National Security Council to discuss the Orlando massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, Barack Obama was angry. He’s more impassioned than we’ve ever seen him. He was speaking from the heart. He’s lashing out! Because you know what really grinds his gears? Republicans.
“That’s the key, they say,” Obama said, eviscerating the GOP. “We can’t defeat them unless we call them radical Islamists. What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change?”
A lot, actually.
As a matter of realpolitik, perhaps it makes sense to avoid the phrase “radical Islam.” We don’t want to offend the Mullahs, theocratic sheiks, oligarchic princes, Arab strongmen, and future junta leaders of the Middle East. We need to work with these people, after all. What should bother you, though, is that Obama constantly tries to chill speech by insinuating that anyone who does associate violence with radical Islam—which includes millions of adherents—is a bigot. This is a president who also intimates that anyone who is critical of everyday Islam’s widespread illiberalism—for example, all nations where homosexuality is punishable by death are Muslim—is also a bigot.
It’s not as if Obama shies away from lecturing people about faith. Saying the words “radical Islam” is a step too far, but bringing up events from the year 1095 to create a tortured moral equivalence is just fine. Not only has Obama implored us to avoid critical rhetoric about Islam, but he demands that Americans (secular apostates like myself included) act as if all faiths are equally tolerant of our lives. This is the president who tells the world that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Can you imagine Obama going to the United Nations General Assembly and declaring the same for Jesus Christ?
Nor has Obama hesitated to lecture Christians, who supposedly use religious freedom as an “excuse” for “discrimination,” to evolve and abandon their antiquated ways. After years of propaganda equating evangelicals with Islamic fundamentalists (who aren’t the true adherents of Islam, according to pundits who’ve probably never read a single book about the faith), many liberals make no distinction between the two anymore. For them, supporting the idea sex-specific bathrooms is only a small step from massacring gay Americans. This is what denial of reality can do to a society. You can see it all manifesting in liberal punditry.
Obama isn’t a secret Muslim, and, regardless of what many people tell me, I’m sure his intentions are good. But abdication of the most obvious truths allows demagogues like Donald Trump to appear to be brave truth-tellers. Blaming all Muslims is as dumb as pretending this terror has nothing to do with Islam. One absurd position just reinforces the other.
“We have a proposal from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to bar all Muslims from immigrating to America,” Obama explained, claiming that those kinds of ideas do the terrorists’ job for them. I’m sure that Trump’s rhetoric on this matter is highly counterproductive. But if you’re willing to murder scores of innocent people in the name of Islam because a blowhard U.S. presidential candidate has an immigration proposal you dislike, that’s a you problem and an Islam problem before it’s a Trump problem. Also, the idea that we have a president more willing to accuse the GOP nominee of instigating terrorism than he is willing to accuse radical Islam is a problem for all of us.
Exempting Islam from discourse is to place Muslims outside the norms of American debate. This is a luxury no other political philosophy or theology enjoys. Obviously, this helps us make events like this about gay marriage or guns or whatever liberal agenda item can be squeezed from tragedy. That would be fine if we weren’t also asked to ignore the actual problem.
Islamists use planes and bombs, and sometimes guns. You can believe all the things you want about the NRA, the availability of “weapons of war,” and Christian homophobia, and still believe that Islamic terrorism is a unique movement that threatens us in a way that the random madman opening fire in a theater does not. Liberals love to point out how rare Islamic-inspired violence is—let’s ban white men! But they fail to point out that we spend billions every year to stop terrorism. If we didn’t, we’d be in for yearly 9/11s.
By the way, don’t you wish Obama would get this worked up about the FBI, which allowed Omar Mateen to slip away from two investigations—one of those, reportedly, because he blamed his actions on Islamophobia? Law enforcement sources now say that Disney notified the FBI that Omar and his wife may have been casing the amusement park back in April. Maybe there was nothing actionable for FBI. So rather than suggesting we undermine the Fifth Amendment and Second Amendment, maybe it’s time to ask why the billions of dollars we spend fighting terrorism are failing.
Mostly, though, I’m not sure why a peaceful Muslim would not appreciate being set apart from Islamists by the president. “Radical Islam” distinguishes between extremists and moderates. Other than allowing liberals to accuse anyone who brings up theological problems of being Islamophobic, what other purpose does ignoring this distinction achieve? The president has yet to explain.