The importance of labels


The refusal of Pres. Barack Obama to explicitly name terrorist acts goes far beyond style; it increases the danger to American security.

Calling the massacres of innocent Americans by deranged followers of the Mideast fanatical regimes by any other name than Islamic terrorism not only confuses the issue of who and what they are but also inhibits efforts to prevent their attacks.

The spectacle during the last 48 hours of obvious pressure from the White House on the FBI and local police to avoid naming the violence as terrorism was outrageous. But more important it could make it less likely that these officials would pursue and expose all possible links as quickly as possible to the international terrorist networks. In the last few hours, it has, indeed, become clear that such links do exist – if, perhaps for good and adequate security reasons, officials do not want to reveal their details.

Obama’s obfuscation becomes increasingly difficult to explain, and certainly to rationalize. One can only speculate on its origins.

By not labeling these outbreaks against law and order, perhaps he thinks he reduces their importance. But calling attacks based on twisted religious prejudice workplace violence does not change their character.

Perhaps even a greater purpose behind Obama’s strategy is an attempt to deflate any characterization by the terrorists and others that there is a conflict between the West and Islam itself. After all, whatever the character of its multitudinous sects, the “umma”, the body of Moslem believers, constitutes a huge segment of the world’s population, perhaps now more than 1.3 billion. Unfortunately it also parallels our effort to help raise a large part of the world still mired down in ignorance and poverty.

A third and exceedingly important aspect of Obama’s tactics could well be his fear that by naming the terrorists for who they are would increase the possibility of a backlash against those Moslems living in the West who do not identify with the terrorists, and, indeed, their fellow Moslems throughout the world who are striving for a peaceful existence. Yet, as the latest horrendous episode in San Bernardino so dramatically demonstrates, it is important to name these events for just that reason. If they are to be prevented, it is important that their origins in Islam are examined with intense scrutiny, and despite the general consensus that the radicalization of the individuals involved are often inexplicable, it is important to try to deduce their origins in order to prevent further occurrences.

In fact, however twisted from the thinking of the mainstream of Islamic philosophy and practice, these individual lunatics derive their inspiration from their adherence to what they consider religious principles. That makes it exceedingly important that other members of the Moslem community be mobilized to the fullest extent in combating these outbreaks. For it is they, if not alone certainly because they are more knowledgeable about their coreligionists than others, who could be the most effective in exposing them before their attacks.

By attempting to break the link between Islam and the terrorists, Obama is contributing to a not surprising reluctance of the greater Moslem community to take up the fight – for their own safety, and alas! often for rationalizations which deny the roots of the whole aberration. It is disheartening, for example, to hear one California Moslem leader publicly accuse the U.S. government of being in part responsible for creating these terrorists. True enough, past American support for reactionary governments in the Middle East has contributed to the lack of their modernization and the welfare of their people. But there is no justification much less explanation in this line of reasoning. That is true even though, the fact that the terrorists’ trail so often leads back to the theology of the supporters of the Saudi Arabian regime and often to financing from those quarters must be taken into account in any effort to stamp out this scourge.

The silence which has fallen on the White House in the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino event is, hopefully, a sign that Obama is about to make an about face in his and our fight against the terrorists. Only an all-out campaign to destroy Daesh and other centers of terrorism in the Middle East, with their inevitable psychological, propaganda, and perhaps direct links, to their collaborators in the West, is a defense against this major assault on American stability. But the phenomenon here must first be identified.

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