A New York Times article this past Tuesday titled, "Teenage Girl Leaves for ISIS, and Others Follow," by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, struck close to home for me. The three young women who left London to enlist in ISIS in Syria were 16, 15 and 15.
My daughter is 15.
"The apparent trend of studious, seemingly driven young women leaving home to join violent jihadists has become disturbingly familiar," according to Freytas-Tamura. They were possibly recruited by another woman who had fled England for ISIS in 2013, Aqsa Mahmood.
"The young women -- Kadiza Sultana, 16; Ms. Begum, 15; and Amira Abase, 15 -- were described by a classmate as studious, argumentative and driven, not unlike Ms. Mahmood ... Ms. Begum, who sent a Twitter message to Ms. Mahmood, asked her own followers before she left to 'keep me in your duas,' or prayers."
Shocking to think that a 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds could board an international flight. But that is what happened.
Shocking to think that while young women and men are being recruited by ISIS, our leaders are still avoiding the truth of the conflict. But that is what is happening.
While the new recruits are asking for prayers, President Barack Obama is shifting the language regarding who we are fighting to "violent extremism" and avoiding the truth.
"Al-Qaida and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders -- holy warriors in defense of Islam," Obama said last week at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism: "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. ... 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."
Obama wrapped an untruth with a truth in the hopes that it would not be untangled.
The truth is that we are not at war with Islam.
The untruth is his avoidance of the correct label for who is at war with us. The answer: Islamism, or radical Islam.
It is not we who are at war with them; it is they who are at war with us. We were not given the choice. But to ignore them is at our own peril.
Christian Whiton, former diplomat, lays out in his book, "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War," a critical error in that "two distinct but overlapping elements" were neither clearly identified nor articulated to the American public. He identifies them as Islam and Islamism.
"The former is a religion of nearly a quarter of the world's population; the latter is a political ideology whose central tenet is unifying government, and Islam and is advocated by a small subset of Muslims." Without our awareness of the situation, it is not possible for us to create a strategy to win.
Instead, the administration has decided to intermix activities of ISIS with all violent extremism.
The activities of violent extremists are viewed most often as terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic used by people and groups in an attempt to win the political, social or religious goal that they have. It is not in itself a belief system.
The belief system itself, Islamism or radical Islam, as defined above, is "a political ideology whose central tenet is unifying government, and Islam and is advocated by a small subset of Muslims."
Our belief system as Americans runs counter to theirs, regardless of the tactics that they use. Our system embraces freedom and diversity; theirs embraces adherence and purity.
Obama commented on this belief as well last week, "The reality -- which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to -- is that there's a strain of thought that doesn't embrace ISIL's tactics, doesn't embrace violence ... but does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it's been polluted by Western values."
But then Obama talks about our responsibility to address political and economic grievances. The reality is while the grievances might cause cracks, it is the ideology of Islamism, or radical Islam itself, that is the draw.
"Women who join the Islamic State try to entice other women to marry militants and help them build a new, retrograde Islamic society," according to Freytas-Tamura.
This lays out the argument that the three young women who boarded the plane from Heathrow, on a journey to Syria, were not going to become part of a violent extremism movement; but instead were persuaded by those who talked of a unifying ideology and a promise of "a new, retrograde Islamic society."
To win, we must first be honest with who is against us, regardless of whether we are against them.