Work and Days

What Are the Metaphysics of Islamic Denial?


After six years, it is no surprise that the Obama administration does not see the Taliban as “terrorists” or that it will not associate “violent extremism” with radical Islam or just Islam.

After all, when Maj. Hasan murdered U.S. soldiers it was nothing more than “workplace violence,” as if he were a disgruntled post office employee of the 1970s. Our two top intelligence chiefs assured us that the Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular” and that jihad “was a legitimate tenet of Islam.” Add in “workplace violence” and the old “overseas contingency operations.” Do we remember that Ms. Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security warned us about right-wing returning veterans as the most likely to terrorize us? When someone blows up people at the Boston Marathon, beheads a woman in Oklahoma, or puts a hatchet in a NYPD officer’s head, he is not a terrorist or proselytizer fueled by Islamic hatred of non-Muslims as much as mentally confused. (I suppose in a way that a Hitler or Stalin was not.)

The problem is not that the administration is just too fond of euphemisms. At times it can be quite candid. The Republican House has been characterized as “terrorists” in their efforts to stop more federal borrowing. The Tea Party was slurred as “tea-baggers” — a derogative sexual term.  Mr. Netanyahu is variously a “coward” or “chickensh-t” — pejoratives not floated for even the vicious Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So why the elaborate façade about the Islamic roots of global terrorism and spreading instability in the Middle East? There are a few possible explanations.

I. Strategy

The Obama administration knows full well that the Taliban, ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the rest of the pack draw their zeal from the Koran. But to say such might turn off two or three useful constituencies — the hard Left at home that hates any judgmentalism, “moderate” Muslims in the Middle East who are essential to nullifying the “radicals” in their midst, and the global community that is always suspicious when America goes to war against a particular group or ideology. The Obama administration with a wink-and-nod, then, accepts radical Islam as the problem, but for strategic reasons, and in the manner occasionally of the Bush administration, prefers euphemisms. Nonetheless, the administration goes on Predatoring thousands of suspected Islamic terrorists even as it won’t say what its targeted victims all have in common. Given that Americans know that the enemy is radical Islam, why turn off potential allies by reiterating that fact?

II. Appeasement

The Obama administration is terrified of radical Islamic terrorism, in the manner that Europeans are — and were scared stiff in the 1930s of Nazi Germany. They know full well that caricaturing Islam is dangerous in a way joking about other religions is not. They are afraid of more televised beheadings, more torturing, and more Benghazis. If they can blame a pathetic U.S. resident for making a video for the deaths in Benghazi, then perhaps the appreciative Islamist culprits will leave it at one harvest at Benghazi (especially before the 2012 elections). If the Taliban sense that Obama will not dare to call them terrorists, then maybe they will negotiate in good faith and enter a stable “coalition” government when we depart entirely from Afghanistan. Bowing to a Saudi royal might assuage his anger at the U.S. Carefully avoiding reference any longer to Syrian regime change might win back Assad to our side. When we don’t condemn “Islamic terrorism,” then perhaps even ISIS mutters, “Hmmm, these Americans are not that bad after all; shoot rather than behead the next hostage.”

Note that essential characteristic of appeasement, the narcissism of the appeaser: An FDR lecturing Churchill that he alone had the skills to win over “Uncle Joe” Stalin, a Jimmy Carter’s unique understanding of Iranian theocracy that as thanks would release the hostages, and the locus classicus of Neville Chamberlain alone with the fluency and sensitivity to make Herr Hitler see what is in his real interest. So, too, only the Peace Prize winner Obama can suavely appease radical Islam and convince them why leaving America alone suits their interest as well. The more we accommodate radical Islamists through euphemism and circumlocution, the more likely they might just go away.

III. Postmodern Therapy

The Obama administration has a fuzzy therapeutic view of human nature in general, as does much of America by now. There is no “welfare” anymore, just “pubic assistance” or better “health and human services.” Beau Bergdahl is confused and complex, hardly a “traitor,” a slur that leaves no room for nuance. The purpose of language is not disinterested and accurate description; rather, language is employed for the political, whether you know it or not.

So the unwillingness to use the world “Islam” in connection with global terrorism simply reflects the leftwing, relativist view that nothing is ever absolute. There is not good versus evil, failure or success, but only gradations that are conditioned by the preexisting prejudices of elites who make up these categories largely to protect their own privilege. Generalization is always reactionary stereotyping. “Islam” or “Muslim” hardly can characterize 400 million people from Indonesia to Dubai. (To be fair, I think the Left’s postmodern relativism is itself mostly political and ad hoc; after all, it often enjoys blanket categorization and has no problem with disparagement like “Republicans,” “tea-baggers,” “conservatives,” “males,” or “whites” as inclusive terms that serve well enough to stereotype millions — or for that matter “gays” and “women” in the hagiographic sense.) “Islam” and “Muslim” are meaninglessly vague, and are used as pejoratives rather than descriptive terms; like most of our race/class/gender vocabulary these rubrics cannot be used as inclusive terms when the aim is not laudatory.

IV. Multicultural Understanding

Finally, perhaps the Obama administration does not see us in a war at all or at least a righteous conflict against cold-blooded religious fanatics from the Islamic world. While it disproves of the methodology of terrorism, it is ambiguous about the origins of such anti-Western rage. Thus Obama chose to skip the march after the Paris killings in a way he would not miss going overseas to lobby for a Chicago Olympics. Collate the apology tour, the initial Al Arabiya interview, and the Cairo speech, and perhaps add in the relevant passages from Dreams from My Father and keen voluntary attendance at Rev. Wright’s sermons. What arises is a consistent Obama worldview that the present U.S.-inspired global order is not fair, but rather fuelled by neo-colonialism, past imperialism, racism, and capitalist exploitation, Western but especially American in nature. In such a moral landscape, obviously some liberationists, revolutionaries, reformers and dissidents will go too far, in the manner that Castro killed or jailed a bit too many or Arafat himself was on occasion a little bit too much the killer.

But as Andrew Young once said of Khomeini that he “will be somewhat of a saint when we get over the panic,” so, too, the Obama administration more or less understands why young men in the Middle East take up arms against the U.S. Note the leftwing hatred of American Sniper, or Michael Moore’s (the object of hero-worship at the Democratic Convention of 2004) rationale for September 11 (“If someone did this [9/11] to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes’ destination of California — these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!”). In the world of Michael Moore’s leftism, the problem was not that Islamists had killed Americans, but rather that they blew up the wrong Americans who were against what the other bad red-state Americans — quite deserving of death — had done.

The point is not that the administration simply sympathizes with radical Islamists or thinks in lockstep with a Michael Moore or Bill Ayers, only that it is intellectually, politically, and culturally unable to damn entirely the Islamist cause by dubbing it “terrorism” or Islamism, given the complexity of past Western culpability for the present mess of the Middle East.

Why do they hate us? For Obama, it is not because of Islamic self-induced pathologies that are the logical result of entrenched tribalism, gender apartheid, religious fundamentalism and intolerance, statism, anti-Semitism, and autocracy, which can only lead to stagnation, poverty, and repression that in turn present as envy, jealousy and hatred of the West.

No, the West is responsible for the lack of parity, and thus the anger of the Middle East is somewhat legitimate and understandable. Just as Obama has apologized for Western culpability of Middle East pathologies, so, too, he does not necessarily see Islamic terrorists as primordial enemies driven on by religious zealotry, as much as variants of more legitimate groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority.


These four exegeses are not entirely constant, but transmogrify to meet the administration’s current political realities (e.g., the euphemisms may cease for a while should there be another 9/11).  They also overlap and are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, which of them most often drives the Obama’s administration peculiar institution of Islamic denial?

I doubt Strategy is the prime mover, although many naïve people in the administration may mistakenly believe that it is. Appeasement is closer to the mark, but perhaps in this case better applies to individuals such as journalists and cartoonists than the U.S. government that protects its own and is all-powerful. Moreover, appeasement is a tactic. It can be conditioned by ideology or individual temperament, but is not a consistent ideology (Chamberlain was a conservative appeaser). Most liberals embrace Postmodern Therapy’s view of human existence, but not all of them to the degree to deny Islamic culpability for global terrorism. I am left with explanation IV, Multicultural Understanding. The Obama administration is preconditioned to consider anti-Americanism not as a logical tic of anti-capitalist, anti-democratic systems or just the whining abroad of the jealous and envious of an exceptional United States, but rather as something often legitimate that has its origins in our inequality, unfairness, and exploitation.

In such a mental landscape, it is almost impossible for those in the administration with any confidence to say that Islamists or even radical Islamists hate us for what we are and will do everything in their power to destroy us, and that the larger neutral Middle East is watching the struggle to see which side proves the stronger horse and thus is worthy of alliance with, or at least worthy of not offending.