The Corner

Why Can’t President Obama Tell the Truth about ISIS’s Faith?

President Obama has been in office for more than five years, has seen countless classified reports of terrorist activities and intentions, and has watched as the Islamic State, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and the full range of jihadist groups have committed one barbaric atrocity after another, and he still won’t tell the American people the truth about what we face.

While pundit after pundit has rightfully hammered the President’s absurd statement that the Islamic State “has no place in the 21st century” (I particularly enjoyed Charles C.W. Cooke’s Friday piece) and the importation of ridiculous “wrong side of history” argumentation from the American culture war, I want to focus on something else — something so manifestly untrue that its inclusion in the president’s speech is inexcusable. It’s this:

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.

What is he talking about? The Islamic State certainly speaks for their faith. In fact, the Islamic State defines itself by faith, an their faith doesn’t just “teach” them to massacre innocents; it mandates such massacres. Moreover, their faith has long roots within Islam, with jihadist movements flaring century after century. Even if we defeat the Islamic State now, we’ll no doubt see other jihadist movements in the future. The Islamic world is plagued by jihad, and it has been for a long time.

President Obama is certainly not the only president prone to telling the American people comfortable lies about our enemy’s faith. President Bush wrapped both arms around Islam, declaring “Islam is peace.” By what standard can a president make such a declaration? There are certainly Muslims who reject jihadists, and the jihadists think those Muslims are apostates. Does the president of the United States now adjudicate Muslim theological disputes? 

Jihadists proclaim Islam — as jihadists have proclaimed Islam throughout the centuries and will proclaim Islam in the centuries to come. They have persistent power within the Muslim world not because their beliefs are “nihilist” (to use another of the president’s words) but because they are transcendent, promising eternal rewards for the faithful and eternal punishment for the infidels. Nihilism is the “rejection of all religious and moral principles.” Jihad is a war for religious and moral principles. 

Can we not tell the truth about this? Can we not also tell the truth that — far from being horrified by barbarism — thousands upon thousands of Muslim men are flocking to the Islamic State’s black banner, including more Muslim Britons than volunteer for Her Majesty’s own armed forces?

To fight an enemy we have to know an enemy, and comforting lies merely drain our will and confuse our own people. We are dealing with an enemy that (rightfully) believes that beheading videos will increase its appeal primarily among young Muslim men. Let that sink in for a moment. Atrocities increase their appeal.

No religion? Oh yes, they have a religion. And that religion wants you dead. 

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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