The political Right, Left, and numerous News Media Outlets are all pre-occupied with how we talk about ISIS, and the dire threats emanating from the middle east. That’s because no one has a cure (right now) that isn’t worse than the disease. So they talk about…….“how to talk about it.” The linguists, however, are convinced that talking about ISIS one way, rather than another, is critical to a solution. Everyone from Left leaners Thomas Friedman and Andrea Mitchell, to Lindsey Graham and Bill O’Reilly, on the Right, say the President’s reluctance to use the word “Islam” to identify the enemy, means he doesn’t understand the problem, and thus can’t mobilize the country and world effectively. How preposterous!
Perhaps the most thoughtful piece written on this subject is by Fareed Zakaria. It has not received much attention. You can find it here. The key question, which is ignored by most of the commentators (Zakaria being an exception), is this:
“What difference would it make if the President and his team said everything they could to ‘remind us’ we are in an epic, Holy war with Islam?”
What would U.S., France, Canada, or Germany do differently if we spoke that way? Would it motivate the West to wage war against all of the two billion Muslims in the world? Incite people to vandalize Mosques and harm peaceful Muslim citizens in Western societies? Carpet bomb countries that are more than 35% Muslim? Create internment camps for Muslim citizens in Western countries (and maybe in Japan too)?
None of that is very funny and surely isn’t meant to be. But don’t the Friedmans and O’Reillys know such unthinkable solutions follow from the kind of ridicule heaped on the Administration for defending the concept that “we are not at war with Islam, but rather with those who are perverting it?” (Maybe they do know, and want to push us toward some of those “solutions”?).
Nor does Graeme Wood’s elegant, and erudite, yet illogical, meandering, and deeply ambivalent piece in The Atlantic — the latest “must read” — add anything useful to the discussion. Wood says ISIS is “very Islam” because it is motivated by an apocalyptic, end of times vision. (Like Jim Jones/Jonestown and David Koresh/Waco). Wood traces ISIS motivation to ancient Islamic doctrine. Hardly any Muslims today believe that. So, what is Wood’s point?
These “insights” from a Harvard educated, liberal intellectual journalist really lit up the blogesphere and impressed commentators of all stripes. In the end, when pressed, Wood agreed with Zakaria, on his recent Sunday morning talk show, that the President is speaking appropriately about ISIS.
I guess Graeme Wood wants to be sure the President, and the rest of us with our heads in the sand, really understand that the ISIS vanguard wants to bring about an apocalypse and receive all the credit. But don’t you think we all basically know that already – on some level — even if we’re not scholarly enough to find it’s philosophical roots in ancient Islam? (And how many other theologies or religious movements have something similar in their distant pasts?)