We are in effect at war with Islamist radicalism. It is very unhelpful if this reality is denied, as the Obama administration has tried to do.
Two news items, spread within days over all the media, must be seen together so as to disclose an ominous reality. One was the news that Meriam Ibrahim and her family had finally arrived safely in the United States. The other news was that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was proclaimed Caliph of the new Islamic State. The story of Meriam Ibrahim tells of yet another horrendous cruelty perpetrated in the name of Islam. The new Caliphate expresses the intention of globalizing the horror.
There are two ways of looking at the record of these atrocities. One is to see them as intrinsic to Islam, the other as an aberration of genuine Islam. The first view is rarely proposed publically in the United States, though it may be quietly held by some Americans less affected by the prevailing culture of tolerance. It is more openly stated in Europe, for example by the Dutch populist Geert Wilders, who admitted that he hated Islam as an enemy of freedom (among other things he proposed that the Quran, like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, should be banned in the Netherlands). It is also interesting to compare the different attitudes to Islamist terrorism by the successive administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Immediately after the attacks of September 2001 President Bush made a speech in which he declared that we are not at war with Islam but with terrorism. (He also said that “Islam means peace”, which it does not. A linguistically challenged White House speech writer must have confused two Arabic words—salaam/”peace”, a common form of salutation among Muslims, and aslama/”submission”, the root of the religion’s name. Not that this matters; Bush meant well.)
The “war against terror” unleashed by the Bush administration has not gone well, to put it mildly. But the domestic reaction to the aforementioned speech was very positive. Numerous churches and synagogues went out of their way to express friendship for Muslims, courses on Islam proliferated in academia, and there was hardly any violence against Muslims (one terrible exception was the murder of a Sikh taxi driver, who was wrongly identified as a Muslim because of his turban). Early after his election President Obama gave a speech in Cairo in which he expressed his admiration for Islam (barely stopping short of apologizing for not being a Muslim). The response to the speech in the Muslim world was decidedly muted. Obama had no problem with Bush’s Islamophilia; he did have a problem with the word “war”—ever since the Cairo speech the Obama administration has maintained either that there was no war to begin with, or (presumably because of Obama’s wise foreign policy) the war was now over. Both Bush’s and Obama’s approaches are in tension with empirical reality. To suggest that Islamist terror has nothing to do with Islam is rather absurd. There is a great shortage of Presbyterian suicide bombers; the Muslim ones, as they blow themselves up, shout “Allahu akbar!”/”Allah is great!” To deny that radical Islamism (aberration or not) is not at war with us is also quite absurd. Barack Obama may not think that we are in a war, but the news has not reached Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.