Politics & Policy

The ‘Radical Islam’ Shibboleth

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Obama can’t bring himself to speak the phrase, but not for the reason Trump suggests.

Early Sunday morning, a radical Muslim born in the United States murdered at least 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. President Obama, as he always does, downplayed the terrorist attacker’s connections to Islam, instead vaguely ascribing the attacker’s radicalization to “various extremist information.”

The next day, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, went on Fox and Friends to discuss President Obama’s statement. And there, as he always does, Trump stuck his foot all the way down his throat. “Look,” said Trump, “we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind.” He could have left it there — but once Trump has his teeth in something, he must continue chomping:

And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on. He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable.

The implication, given Trump’s context, is that Obama is a covert Muslim.

This would not be the first time Trump has made such a suggestion. In 2011, as Trump called for Obama’s birth certificate (he said Obama was probably ineligible and born in Kenya), he stated, “Maybe [his birth certificate] says he is a Muslim.” In 2012, Trump tweeted, “Does Madonna know something we all don’t about Barack? At a concert she said, ‘we have a black Muslim in the White House.’” A significant number of Republicans agree with this theory by polling data.

On Tuesday, President Obama retaliated. Obama, who appeared visibly upset — far more upset than he was in his original statement discussing the murder of 49 Americans by a radical Muslim terrorist in Orlando — went after Trump directly. He explained that there was no need to use the term “radical Islam” — that would simply make things worse:

That’s the key, they tell us. We can’t get ISIL unless we call them “radical Islamists”’ What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? 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. There is no magic to the phrase “radical Islam.” It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.

Ironically, this argument — “Would not terrorism by any other name smell as sweet?” — is itself a political talking point, not a strategy. Nevertheless, Obama’s not reticent to talk about radical Islam because he’s Muslim. He’s reticent to talk about radical Islam because he’s a leftist.

Obama believes, as doctrinaire leftists do, that human beings do not derive meaning from ancient religious superstitions and deep-seated ideas about how the universe ought to operate. Given relief from material want and prevention of emotional distress, Obama believes, all human beings would get along just fine — and would then be free to cultivate themselves as they see fit.

Karl Marx wrote that “life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things.” In this view, unhappiness derives from scarcity in these resources or from social relationships created to guarantee these primary needs for some at the expense of others. Religion, meanwhile, exists only to misdirect such unhappiness toward the cosmic rather than toward one’s fellow man. Hence Marx’s belief that abolition of religion is “the demand for their real happiness.”

Poverty and violence do not correlate. But poverty of ideology and violence do correlate.

If that’s the case, then there’s no reason for Obama to mention “radical Islam.” It’s an opiate of the masses, just like Christianity (“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years . . . it’s not surprising then they get bitter”). To get beyond the threat of “radical Islam” requires a real strategy, in the Obama view — a strategy of material redistribution, of power equalization. Take away the guns, centralize all the power in Washington, D.C., and then turn human beings into materialist widgets in thrall to that centralized power — and you’ll have peace. Don’t, and you’ll have chaos. That’s why Obama attributes terrorism in Jakarta to shootings in Chicago: “I have seen the desperation and disorder of the powerless . . . how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury; how easily they slip into violence and despair.”

Of course, this is all wrong. Terrorists in Indonesia aren’t just angry because they’re poor. Neither are kids in Chicago. Poverty and violence do not correlate. But poverty of ideology and violence do correlate.

Trump understands that, which is why he blames radical Islam for the Orlando terrorist attack. But meanwhile, Trump is blind to the fact that American leftism is a religion all its own. Ironically, Trump — supposed scourge of the Left — believes that leftism can’t be the rationale for Obama’s soft-on-radical-Islam perspective. He believes, instead, that Obama must be a secret Muslim. That’s because he fundamentally misunderstands modern leftism, and the alliance between the modern Left and radical Islam to tear down the gates of Western civilization to make way for the new. Once the gates are down, of course, the Left will find out soon enough that radical Muslims do exist, and that they can’t be bought off with a few material concessions — the Europeans are finding that out daily.

But until then, Obama will call for gun control. He’ll suggest that the real problem is hurt feelings and lack of opportunity. And Trump, puzzled as ever, will continue to misdiagnose leftism as radical Islam.

Most Popular

Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Elections

To ‘Steal’ an Election

Dan has a good article on the homepage, the main point of which is that the system worked, since Trump’s efforts to reverse the election failed. Certainly I agree with him about that. But he also finds charges that Trump tried to “steal” the election “overheated.” Since I made such a claim myself, I ... Read More
Elections

To ‘Steal’ an Election

Dan has a good article on the homepage, the main point of which is that the system worked, since Trump’s efforts to reverse the election failed. Certainly I agree with him about that. But he also finds charges that Trump tried to “steal” the election “overheated.” Since I made such a claim myself, I ... Read More
Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had ... Read More
Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had ... Read More
U.S.

The Coming Anti-COVID Restriction Backlash

The backlash is coming. It already seems clear that the first major political and cultural eruption of the Biden years will be a roiling populist backlash against the next round of COVID restrictions. We saw this sentiment play out in sporadic anti-lockdown demonstrations last spring, and it has driven ... Read More
U.S.

The Coming Anti-COVID Restriction Backlash

The backlash is coming. It already seems clear that the first major political and cultural eruption of the Biden years will be a roiling populist backlash against the next round of COVID restrictions. We saw this sentiment play out in sporadic anti-lockdown demonstrations last spring, and it has driven ... Read More