Although most people across the ideological spectrum see no problem with calling Islamic State evil, the change in rhetoric elicited a predictable knee-jerk response. Political scientist Michael Boyle hears an "eerie echo" of Bush's "evildoers" talk. "Indeed," he wrote in the New York Times, "condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely 'evil' is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs."
James Dawes, the director of the Program in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalester College, agreed in a piece for CNN.com Using the word "evil," he wrote, "stops us from thinking."
No, it doesn't. But perhaps a reflexive and dogmatic fear of the word "evil" hinders thinking?
For instance, Boyle suggests that because the Islamic State controls lots of territory and is "administering social services," it "operates less like a revolutionary terrorist movement that wants to overturn the entire political order in the Middle East than a successful insurgent group that wants a seat at that table."
Behold the clarity of thought that comes with jettisoning moralistic language! Never mind that the Islamic State says it seeks a global caliphate with its flag over the White House. Who cares that it is administering social services? Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot did, too. That's what revolutionary groups do when they grab enough territory.
There's a more fundamental question: Is it true? Is the Islamic State evil?
As a matter of objective moral fact, the answer seems obvious. But also under any more subjective version of multiculturalism, pluralism or moral relativism shy of nihilism, "evil" seems a pretty accurate description for an organization that is not only intolerant toward gays, Christians, atheists, moderate Muslims, Jews, women, et al. but also stones, beheads and enslaves them.
Who are you saving the word for if "evil" is too harsh for the Islamic State? More to the point, since when is telling the truth evidence you've stopped thinking?