In an op-ed for The New York Times, former Obama administration official Richard Stengel attempted to explain why no one employed by the 44th president would use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” when describing…radical Islamic terrorism.
Stengel, who was Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, insisted that the term only serves to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its Muslim allies.
Noting that Donald Trump criticized Obama and Hillary for being too timid to use the term, Stengel said that fear had nothing to do with the strategy.
“The reason was a much more practical one: To defeat radical Islamic extremism, we needed our Islamic allies — the Jordanians, the Emiratis, the Egyptians, the Saudis — and they believed that term unfairly vilified a whole religion,” Stengel wrote.
“They also told us that they did not consider the Islamic State to be Islamic, and its grotesque violence against Muslims proved it,” he continued. “We took a lot of care to describe the Islamic State as a terrorist group that acted in the name of Islam. Sure, behind the scenes, our allies understood better than anyone that the Islamic State was a radical perversion of Islam, that it held a dark appeal to a minority of Sunni Muslims, but it didn’t help to call them radical Islamic terrorists.”
Okay, so let’s try to unpack this. Our Muslim allies are fully aware that the Islamic State practices and preaches a version of Islam, and they’re fully aware that WE’RE fully aware of that fact. But even so, it’s better to use phony, vague terms like “violent extremism” because…because why?
Stengel’s point appears to be that by calling this radical wing of Islam by its true name, we risk enforcing the message of the terrorists.
“The Islamic State is not just a terrorist group, it is an idea,” he wrote. “Its rallying cry is that the West is hostile to Islam and that every good Muslim has a duty to join the caliphate.”
All right, but we’ve been playing the “Not All Muslims” card since 9/11. Meanwhile, the “idea” of Islamic jihad has spread like wildfire across the Middle East and has even begun sprouting up in Western countries like…well, like ours. For how many years must we practice this absurd wordplay until it bears fruit?
Furthermore, what can we make of Stengel’s next argument, which appears to fly directly in the face of the narrative he’s defending?
“It is not up to us to say what is Islamic and what is not,” he wrote. “Only the voices of mainstream Muslims and independent clerics in Muslim countries can create a narrative that refutes the Islamic State’s and offers a more positive alternative. A tweet from the United States government saying the Islamic State is a distortion of Islam is not going to hurt the group. Instead, it will help its recruiting.”
That’s…that’s exactly what we’ve been screaming for eight years! That’s exactly what Obama did!
Look, maybe having a president willing to use the words “radical Islamic terrorism” won’t make a difference. Maybe it’s a sideshow that has little bearing on the fight against terror. We’ll see. But since we don’t know, we may as well tell the truth. If that drives Muslims into the arms of the Islamic State, well, frankly, they were probably headed there anyway.