National Security & Defense

Let’s Give the Platitudes Surrounding Terrorism a Rest

Memorial for bombing victims in Manchester, England, May 23, 2017. (Reuters photo: Stefan Mermuth)
President Trump’s bracing call for truth.

Following the terrorist attack in Manchester that left at least 22 people dead and dozens injured, many of them children, President Donald Trump referred to terrorists as “evil losers in life.” As expected, a number of liberal pundits mocked the president’s unrefined language. So jejune, you know?

Inadvertently or not, Trump landed on a plain-spoken stinging moniker that happens to be true. No matter how many people the next Salman Abedi ends up killing, theocratic dead-enders are losers in every societal, ideological, and historical sense. Perhaps some blunt language will lead to some clearer thinking on the issue.

Now, it’s debatable whether it matters very much to would-be terrorists what unpleasant names Trump has in store for them. How we talk about terrorism, on the other hand, is important. Over the past eight years (at least), the topic has been obscured by clinical euphemisms and feel-good platitudes for the sake of winning hearts and minds. How’s that going?

If unkind words about Islam – Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, for instance — offer “aid and comfort” to the Islamic State group or compel more Muslims to blow up pressure cookers filled with nails to kill infidel children, that illustrates what might be a terrible truth about the state of Islam, not about American society.

Leaders in Western nations have gone out of their way to craft rhetoric that circumvents Islam completely when speaking about terrorism. We’re hooked on platitudes, such as “man-caused disaster,” treating terrorism as some kind of spontaneous criminal event, rather than a tactic used predominantly by one ideology. At the same time, the Left has been transforming tolerance into a creed that means accepting illiberalism. Their overcompensation to imagined backlashes has given real-life excuses to ignore the pervasive violence, misogyny, homophobia, child abuse, tyranny, anti-Semitism, bigotry against Christians, etc., that exist in large parts of Islamic society. Saying, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” as President Obama did, makes every critic a hater.

After every Manchester or Paris or Nice, we are immediately instructed to watch our language and tone. Because love is love. You might remember former attorney general Loretta Lynch telling an LGBT group on the heels of the mass Islamic killing at a gay club in Orlando, Fla., that the “most effective” weapon Americans have to fight terrorism is love.

Brendan O’Neill wrote a powerful post-Manchester piece. He said: “After the terror, the platitudes. And the hashtags. And the candlelit vigils. And they always have the same message: ‘Be unified. Feel love. Don’t give in to hate.’ The banalities roll off the national tongue. Vapidity abounds. A shallow fetishization of ‘togetherness’ takes the place of any articulation of what we should be together for — and against.”

After every terror act, Europeans and Americans are asked not to change anything. Not to overreact. Not to fear immigration. Never to fear Islam. A headline in the Independent read: “There’s only one way Britain should respond to attacks such as Manchester. That is by carrying on exactly as before.” Seriously? Exactly the same? Because on Tuesday, British authorities raised the country’s terror threat level to “critical,” which means “an attack may be imminent.”

Morrissey had some stinging words for the cliché-driven reaction of British politicians who seem paralyzed by political correctness. “In modern Britain everyone seems petrified to officially say what we all say in private,” he wrote. “Politicians tell us they are unafraid, but they are never the victims. How easy to be unafraid when one is protected from the line of fire. The people have no such protections.”

Spin magazine reported the comments under a headline reading “Morrissey Says Something Predictably Dumb about the Manchester Bombing.” That’s because the perfunctory reaction of left-leaning writers is to condemn the person pointing out the uncomfortable truth. Yet “keep calm and carry on” was meant to raise morale among the British, not call for surrender.

Of course, the chances of dying in a terrorist act are slim. Yet the randomness and wantonness of terrorism threatens everyday existence for millions. Western elites are starting to act as if this is a byproduct of modern life we’re just going to have to live with, like car accidents. This is a scandalous reaction.

It is refreshing to veer away from the vacuity of the previous eight years.

So, as imperfect a messenger as President Trump is, and as clueless as he might be in other ways, it is refreshing to veer away from the vacuity of the previous eight years. In his speech in Saudi Arabia, the president implored nations to confront “honestly” the problem of “Islamic extremism,” rather than “Islamist extremism.” CNN argued that this “subtle change — or slip, as the White House called it — could mean the difference between offending Middle Eastern allies and not.”

There is no reason for anyone gratuitously to attack an entire religion. And we don’t want to offend the mullahs, theocratic sheiks, oligarchic princes, Arab strongmen, and future junta leaders of the Middle East and Asia, because they often help fight terrorism. But President Obama supposedly avoided terms like “radical Islamic terrorism” in an attempt to deny IS religious authority — as if this were his bailiwick. It’s not up to Western leaders to define what Islam is or isn’t. It is up to them to stand for liberalization (which is the only way to change attitudes within the Islamic world) and to speak honestly about what’s happening.

David Harsanyi — David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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