Why It’s So Hard for Obama to Call Terrorism Terrorism

Notwithstanding the incontrovertible, seemingly undeniable evidence that the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris was a terrorist attack, the Obama White House initially engaged in its maddening practice of refusing to state the obvious for fear of offending Muslims.


As the Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper reports, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest insisted on labeling as “an act of violence” the murder of a dozen people by Allahu-Akbar!-screaming gunmen. When CNN pointed out that French President Francois Hollande had, without hesitation, described the atrocity as an “act of terrorism,” Earnest spluttered that “if based on this investigation it turns out to be an act of terrorism, we would condemn that in the strongest possible terms, too” – but he declined to draw that conclusion.

Reports of this exchange obviously embarrassed the White House. Subsequently, the president issued a statement that categorically referred to the mass-murder as “this terrorist attack” and the gunmen as “terrorists.”

Still, it is clear that Earnest had simply been following established administration practice – the shenanigans that, in the leading example, gave us “workplace violence” after the jihadist murder of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood.

Why is the administration so reluctant to call terrorism terrorism? Because the president has taken to absurd lengths a practice, started in the Bush administration, of avoiding words that associate violence with Islam – indeed, that connote an Islamic justification for violence.

In the Bush days, this PC-drivel held that we should avoid terms like “jihad,” “Islamo-fascist,” and “mujahideen” (jihadist warriors) because they implicitly accorded terrorists an esteemed status and legitimized their brutality – as if Islamic supremacists cared what we think; as if their perception of legitimacy hinged on the words used by the enemies they despise rather than their own doctrine.


Under Obama, the purge has extended to the word “terrorism” itself. It is to be avoided because “terrorism” has been so frequently uttered in conjunction with “Islam” that a causal connection might be inferred.

You don’t say!

Of course, one who studied Islamic doctrine might point out that the scriptures invoke the word “terror” in explicitly endorsing wars of conquest against non-Muslims (see, e.g., the Koran’s Sura 3:151: “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers …”; Sura 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”; Bukhari Hadith 52:220: “Allah’s Apostle said … ‘I have been made victorious with terror.’”) But why study the ideology of Islamic supremacists? After all, we’ve got the feel-good dogma of Western progressives, who insist that terrorism is not only unrelated to Islam but is, in fact, “anti-Islamic activity,” as former British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith maintained.

Thus, you are to understand, drawing a direct connection between terrorism and Islam needlessly provokes and potentially alienates Muslims – because, you know, if Muslims commit violence, it simply must be because of something we’ve done; it couldn’t possibly be that they are following a doctrine that instructs them to make war on non-Muslims.

So, from the premise that (a) terrorism is unrelated to Islam, Obama reasons that (b) groups that self-identify as Muslims are really just “violent extremists” because they do not – they cannot – represent the true Islam (so don’t you dare call them “jihadists”). Since (c) only violent extremists commit terrorism, we must therefore (d) resist describing any mass-murder act as “terrorism” unless and until it has been linked to a “violent extremist” group that we already recognize as such (e.g., al Qaeda, ISIS). Consequently, (e) if we lack the evidence to link the mass-murder attack to one of these violent extremist groups, we must deny that the act is terrorism and (f) refer to it instead as “workplace violence,” “lone-wolf attack,” “militant extremism,” or some such. Oh … and be careful with “extremism” – after all, someone might ask what exactly the militants are being extreme about.


Not every instance of resistance to the word “terrorism” is rooted in psychobabble. Some of it is strictly political. When “violent extremism” is committed by the recognized “violent extremist” group al Qaeda, the word “terrorism” should be avoided if its invocation would cause Obama embarrassment – particularly by reminding people that his claims to have “decimated” al Qaeda and put it “on the path to defeat” are ridiculous.

That brings us to the Benghazi shuffle, when Obama first refused to label the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound as terrorism and later insisted he had done so. To recap, in a Rose Garden speech on September 12, 2012, Obama refused to use the word “terrorism” in describing the specific jihadist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound that killed four American officials, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He then, in the obvious context of the eleventh anniversary of al Qaeda’s 9/11 atrocities, spoke discursively about terrorism in general. But he took pains not to connect the two: The Benghazi incident was kept separate from the al Qaeda terrorism the president said he was defeating.

As I detailed in Faithless Execution, this was a quite intentional strategy – a fact that was confirmed only much later. The Benghazi Massacre coincided with the stretch-run of the 2012 election campaign. Besides bragging about purportedly defeating al Qaeda, Obama was also portraying his Libya policy as a smashing success. Acknowledging Benghazi as a terrorist attack would have discredited these claims. That’s why the administration concocted an elaborate fraud, blaming the attack on an obscure video rather than on the al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who had been empowered by Obama’s decision to back Islamists against Qaddafi.


Subsequently, in a campaign debate, when GOP candidate Mitt Romney hammered the president for failing to react to the Benghazi attack as an act of terrorism, Obama falsely claimed to have unhesitatingly called it “terrorism” as soon as it happened. In this, he got invaluable assistance from the Obama campaign’s media division. At the debate itself, CNN’s Candy Crowley interjected to portray the president’s false claim as accurate. CBS, moreover, shamefully sat for weeks on statements Obama made in an interview with Steve Croft, minutes after the afore-described September 12 Rose Garden speech. In those remarks, Obama openly conceded that he had resisted using the word “terrorism” because he was not yet convinced Benghazi was a terrorist attack.

So in connection with the Charlie Hebdo murders, we should be thankful that the administration arrived at its terrorism verdict with what, by Obama standards, was a minimum of handwringing. It is a welcome departure.


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