Barack Obama and his administration erased meaningful metaphors and powerful language describing the "war on terrorism." Words such as "jihadist," and "radical Islam," the plain speech of the George W. Bush years, were dropped as if something foul. In 2010. the National Security Strategy formally replaced the term "Islamic terrorism" with "violent extremism," generalizing the threat and blurring the lens. "Terrorism" at Fort Hood, Texas, was reduced to "workplace violence," despite evidence that the Muslim major who killed 13 and wounded 32 others had been counseled by an al-Qaida mentor.
Playing games with the language was intended to court the Muslim world, but it confuses anyone trying to make sense of the appeal of terrorism, and the theology (if theology it is) of radical Islam. We're entitled to ask why this particular religion at this time so readily becomes a violent vehicle for a young man yearning for moral authority.
When Tamerlan Tsarnaev slipped into the hedonistic life of marijuana, girls and booze, his mother, as mothers will, urged her son to seek his religious roots. He did just that, but what he found in those roots that led him to wholesale violence is something we must find out. We must take care not to hold peaceful and devout Muslims responsible for the evil acts of the radicals who pursue violence, but we must examine what in the religion encourages death and mayhem. It's neither an academic nor a prejudicial pursuit, but one based on experience.
The U.S. government's abuse of semantics hasn't reduced the fear of violence incited by radical Islam. This abuse of language does no favor to devout and peaceful Muslims, either. The Pew Research Center in 2010 found that fewer Americans felt favorably toward Islam than five years earlier; more Americans believe Islam encourages violence than they did in the George W. Bush years.
"There is little doubt that the administration's unwillingness to speak candidly about Islamic terrorism has taken a toll on the American public's trust in its ability to confront the threat," observes Stuart Gottlieb in National Interest magazine. When rhetoric understates and obfuscates the threat, distrust rises. Reality is hard to hide.