(Other than the fact that it’s ridiculous, of course.)
As far as preventing terrorist organizations from destroying civilization is concerned, the proposition being repeatedly made by Republicans that “you can’t fight something if you can’t accurately describe it” is also ridiculous. Obama can call ISIS Late For Dinner if he wants to, and still take effective steps to contain the group and others. I can’t remember ever experiencing such a long and intense debate over what something should be called, unless you count the Republican insistence that water-boarding isn’t torture after decades of the United States saying otherwise in legal documents, treaties and places where English is spoken, That, however, was obviously deceitful wordplay to get around the law, lawyering at it’s worst. This is something else…but what is it?
Yesterday, poor Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson did the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows, and was asked to explain the Administration’s weird rhetorical line in the sand repeatedly. Presumably he was prepared beforehand, yet the best he could do was probably the version he came up with on Fox News, saying on the topic:
” [T]he thing I hear from leaders in the Muslim community in this country is, “ISIL is attempting to hijack my religion. Our religion is about peace and brotherhood and ISIL is attempting to hijack that from us.” And they resent that. Most victims of ISIL are, in fact, Muslims. So it seems to me that to refer to ISIL as occupying any part of the Islamic theology is playing on a — a battlefield that they would like us to be on. I think that to call them — to call them some form of Islam gives the group more dignity than it deserves, frankly.”
Wait..what? That’s it? So this is meant to, like, hurt their feelings? Why not go whole hog, and call them “Smoosh-Face Poopy-Heads,” then, or something similar? We’re officially denying what everyone knows to be true because moderate Muslims don’t like sharing a religion with the radicals, so to be nice, were speaking Fantasy rather than English?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall anyone arguing that the the wackos of the Westboro Baptist Church aren’t Baptists because other Baptists say that “Our religion is treating human beings with respect and Fred Phelps’ hateful family is attempting to hijack that from us,” or that the Fundamentalist Christians who insist that the Earth is only 10,000 years old aren’t Christians because other Christians say that “Our religion is about accepting the real world and these science-rejecting fanatics are attempting to hijack that from us.“ What’s the difference? Did FDR refuse to call the Nazis German because to do so would give the Nazis more dignity than they deserved? Isn’t this, as some commenters here have pointed out on other threads, a national policy of embracing the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy? Of course it is. This is the ‘No True Muslim” fallacy:
“Islam is a religion of peace. No Muslims would engage in terrorism.”
“What about ISIS, Boko Haram and al Qaeda?’
“They aren’t true Muslim groups, just terrorist groups that happen to include Muslims.”
“If Obama wishes to guard against Islamophobia and to combat dangerous ideas like O’Reilly’s [that the U.S. is “at war with Islam,” a typical bit and irresponsible of O’Reilly excess] he should acknowledge that religion is indeed a factor in this violence. While ISIS’s Islam is reviled and rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, the group and others like it are at least in part an earnest religious phenomenon, motivated by not-wholly-inaccurate revivals of puritanical medieval Islam, as well as by more modern — but still Islamic — strains of political Islamism. It is important for Americans to see that, and to see that their president sees it.Obama should honestly address the conversation about Islamist extremism that many Americans are already having. Ignoring this conversation will only make it worse.”
The President should be honest! What a concept! It’s so crazy, it might even work!
Both Taranto and Fisher, from the right and the left, explain why the policy is both counter-productive as in “doesn’t work,” and also just plain stupid. Here’s Taranto:
A portion of his Wednesday speech at the Summit on Violence to the Truth—pardon us, on Countering Violent Extremism was devoted to answering his critics: “Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge. So I want to be very clear about how I see it.”
He was, of course, anything but. His convoluted attempt to justify an obvious falsehood reminded us of one of those old “Star Trek” episodes in which a dangerous computer is destroyed by a logic bomb. Here is his argument:
“Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders—holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.” And they propagate the notion that America—and the West, generally—is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people. We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders—they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
The crux is the claim that “America is at war with Islam” and Obama’s characterization of that claim as “a lie.” Is it a lie? It is certainly a false description of the American posture: America is not at war with “Islam.” Inasmuch as we are at war at all, our enemy is much more narrowly defined, consisting of particular groups of (to use the president’s terminology) violent extremists.
But that is not how al Qaeda and the Islamic State see it. They are not disingenuously trying “to portray themselves as religious leaders”; when they say “America is at war with Islam,” they are sincerely describing the way they see the world.
To say so affords them no legitimacy; it merely acknowledges reality. “We’ve got to discredit these ideologies,” the president said in the same speech. “We have to tackle them head on. And we can’t shy away from these discussions.” Truer words were never spoken with less sincerity.
What is wrong with the President’s insistent denial is really simple: it is a lie. It would have been a lie to insist that the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor weren’t really Japanese and didn’t represent the Japanese people, and I wonder what the response would have been from Democrats and the media trying to trap Republican Presidential candidates in the Rudy Giuliani “gotcha!” if Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and the rest had answered, “Giuliani isn’t a Republican! No real Republican would say such a thing; the Republican party is a party of rational discourse and respect! You’re Republiphobic to call him a Republican! You shouldn’t let him hi-jack our party like that!”
Yes, as Fisher correctly describes the problem (without using the term), this is a classic cognitive dissonance trap. The terrorists are Islamic groups, and if the U.S. attacks them, we will in fact be attacking Muslims as well as terrorists. That will have cognitive dissonance consequences for more moderate Muslims, who will find the standing of the U.S. in their value system going down. That’s how radicals build support. It’s part of Saul Alinsky’s playbook; it was part of Occupy Wall Street’s playbook. When the crazy S.D.S. took over the administration building in an ROTC protest and my college overreacted by using riot police to remove them, students joined the stupid protesters because cops were gassing students….and that was the plan of the activists all along, because it works.
Boy, if only Obama had been president of my school so he could have said, “These aren’t real college students! We give then legitimacy by calling them that! They’re just vandals and troublemakers!,” my classes would never have been shut down for a month. Right?
Of course not right. It is a pathetic, weak, deluded strategy, but those are non-ethical considerations. What matters more is that it’s an unethical strategy, because it involves lying in the face of the American people in the most cynical and revealing way, with a lie that is obviously a lie except to ideological zombies. This makes the office of the President appear untrustworthy, makes the government appear untrustworthy, and the President himself seem untrustworthy. The fact that it is such a bone-headed “solution” doesn’t build much trust either.
By this time, Obama has forfeited the privilege of being trusted, but this latest sequence shows how deeply Orwellian solutions have become a reflex within the Democratic Party culture. This is cause for alarm. I first wrote about this a year ago:
“Secretary of State John Kerry just denied that dropping bombs on a state constitutes warfare. WAR IS PEACE, you see. In Saudi Arabia, Kerry corrected CNN reporter Elise Labott when she described the widening armed conflict between the Islamic State and the United States as a war. “I think that’s the wrong terminology,” Kerry said. “What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation”…[an example of] dishonesty and contempt for language and meaning [using]“significant counter-terrorism operation” …as a description of dropping bombs, which just isn’t something one does during peacetime.
Moreover, this contempt for obvious truth establishes a pattern. A government that will lie to the face of the public it serves cannot be trusted, and a public that allows its leaders to insult them with such obvious lies is assenting to being treated like sheep and fools.
The Obama administration has done this before, during the Libyan operations, when it denied that bombing was “hostilities” within the War Powers Acts. Refusing to be treated with such disrespect should not be a partisan matter: it’s a matter of civic responsibility. War is Hell; war is also war. It’s too bad that, once again, reality has mugged President Obama’s fond dreams, but it we allow our government to talk to us like idiots, then we are idiots.
I noted this technique again in September, as the unraveling Affordable Care Act continued to be called a success despite unambiguous data that it has made health care insurance less affordable for millions of Americans:
Yesterday, Pelosi explained how the Affordable Care Act was a “winner” for Democrats going into the 2014 elections—or, as Big Brother would say, “Losers are Winners”—and instructed the public and the media that the law isn’t “Obamacare.” “It’s called the Affordable Care Act. It’s called the Affordable Care Act, ” she insisted. “Affordable. Affordable. There’s a reason. Affordable. Affordable. Affordable. Affordable. Affordable.”
Pelosi, like the fictional uber-dictator who casts a permanent shadow over George Orwell’s dystopian alternate 1984, knows that if you pound descriptions into the minds of human sheep relentlessly enough, then you can control them. In the totalitarian mindset that leaders like Pelosi endorse, it isn’t the truth that matters but the language used to hide it. “Fifty-one times the Republicans have voted to repeal this freedom and opportunity for the American people,” she said yesterday. Freedom! Funny, in my dictionary, freedom would seem to mean that I should be able to buy or not buy whatever health insurance plan I want, and be able to keep going to a doctor whom I trust and know. Oh no! Government mandates are Freedom. Just ask Nancy Pelosi.
The problem with the Affordable Care Act is that for a great many, indeed for the nation itself, it may not be affordable….although the President and the Democrats are the ones who decide what “affordable” means. Unaffordable is Affordable, after all. As the President told a young audience this month, your health care is affordable, it’s just that you might have to give up buying some things you enjoy. Wait, make that ‘you now have the freedom to give up some things you enjoy.’ See, Nancy, I’m getting the hang of it! I can be taught to love Big Brother!
What Americans need to start paying attention to is what kind of character and values their leaders display when they nakedly distort the truth like this. Lies are Truth. The President lied for four years about what the new law would do to our health care choices, and the supporters of Obamacare have spent the months since this was revealed excusing it, denying it, and spinning it, because, after all Big Brother knows best.
I did not write about Obama’s bizarre State of the Union message this year, in which he described the nation as flush, prospering, and blessed with remarkable public policy success, as Yemen was crumbling at that very hour. Later in the month, despite the first widespread race-riots the U.S has seen in decades and polls showing racial distrust at its worst level in many years, he told an interviewer that race relations in the U.S. have improved since he took office.
What is most wrong, most unethical and most frightening about the attempt to deny the religious nature of ISIS is that it is part of a pattern in this government to use falsity as a tool of governance and as a remedy for failure.