There are several phony arguments making their way through the “progressive” quarters of the commentariat that need to be addressed at once. One of them goes like this: We can’t blame Islam for the the Boston terror bombings because that would be committing “the sin of essentialism,” to quote Marc Ambinder at The Week. The brilliant if unintended non-sequitur is that since not all Muslims are terrorists, therefore no Muslims are terrorists, or at least no terrorists are actually Muslim. Think about that one. This has actually cleared an editor.

But the anti-essentialists want to have it both ways. They chide others for thinking (allegedly, as I’ve never seen one credible writer actually make this argument) that Islam is a completely violent religion, even as they argue that it is a “religion of peace.” Well, if it is a sin to boil Islam down to any single essence, the proscription works in both directions, and it’s just as ridiculous to say it’s completely evil than that it’s completely peaceful.

The other pernicious argument is a variation on the anti-essentialist theme. These people adopt a form of linguistic slipperiness, in which “Islam” as a concept is said to be undefinable and amorphous. To use the unfortunate language of postmodernism, it is an “unstable” concept.  Nobody, then, is *really* a Muslim. Following this internal logic, nobody can *really* be a Muslim terrorist. Get it?

The obvious flaw in this argument is that if no one can really be motivated by Islam, nobody can really be motivated by Islamophobia. (How can you hate that which doesn’t exist?) I doubt the anti-essentialists would consent to this corollary. It also ignores the, well, pretty important fact that the bombers were obsessed with radical Islam!

I have put the following question to many people since last week, and no one has chosen to answer it. If a black church is burned to the ground, and the crime traced to a white kid with a swastika hanging in his room and a YouTube account full of KKK and Nazi videos, are we allowed to say the crime was the result of white supremacism? What we have in the Boston terror attacks is, mutatis mutandis, the exact analogue of that crime.