Enemy Without a Name

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Feb 25, 2015 5:04 PM
Enemy Without a Name

Last week our president and commander- in-chief responded to the latest wave of terrorist attacks around the world by -- calling a seminar.

It was a seminar in the style of your college sociology textbook: full of abstract generalities with no particular relevance to any specific, real-life social reality. The international confab produced reams of banalities, platitudes, cliches ... there are as many words to describe that kind of boilerplate as there are to say the obvious. And bores, even when they're presidents of the United States, seem to repeat every one of them.

Last week's grand talkfest was billed as an international conference on "violent extremism," a generic term that avoids any specific reference to today's violent extremists, just as this president once banned any reference to his predecessor's War on Terror, preferring "overseas contingency operations," which used to be called wars.

Why use one syllable with a clear meaning when a gauzy, multisyllabic label could be dreamed up by some specialist in bureaucratese? The introduction of that meaningless term early on was only one indication of this administration's constitutional aversion to anything smacking of clarity, brevity and meaning -- not just in language but in policy, if the administration has one. This president may be cutting American defenses across the board, but he's developed a whole arsenal of euphemisms to use against the (always unspecified) enemy.

It's as if, in the Second World War, this country wasn't engaged in a life-and-death struggle against Germany, Italy and the rest of the Axis powers but unspecified "violent extremists" in Europe, and, in the Pacific, not the Japanese empire but the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which was Tokyo's own euphemism for its imperial ambitions. Just as our current president feels free to refer to ISIL, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is its own grandiose title, instead of simply saying Islamic terrorism. That would come dangerously close to the truth.

Contrary to what this president claims, ISIL and al-Qaida before it and whatever name for these murderous fanatics will come after it, is Islamic -- as Islamic as the medieval Inquisition and auto-da-fe were Christian, and the Ku Klux Klan was as Southern as grits-and-gravy, deeply rooted in the culture of this region, even if it was the dark side of the culture.

To ignore ISIL's Islamic roots is to ignore the first rule of war: Know your enemy. And in this case call it by its right name: Islamic terrorism.

It's become something of a betting game among the punditry: How long will our "leader" manage to avoid calling the enemy -- radical Islam -- by its right name? Apparently indefinitely. Why? Out of fear that doing so will offend the Muslim world. As if the vast majority of Muslims in the world don't recognize these killers for what they are, and want only to be left alone to live their lives in peace. Lest we forget, the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslims themselves. They know their enemy even if the American president feigns ignorance.

What are we so afraid of? Why have we adopted so patronizing an attitude toward the world's Muslims, assuming that any mention of the terrorists among them will offend a whole, vast, complex faith with many branches? What an insult -- an insult only aggravated by its rationale: The administration does not wish to give offense, and so assumes the whole Muslim world will take it if we tell the truth about the origin and appeal of Islamic terrorism. What naivete. And ignorance and presumption to boot.

Unlike our own president, the president of France -- France! -- did not hesitate to call the enemy that now threatens the West by its right name after the attacks on an iconoclastic weekly and a kosher butcher shop in Paris: Islamo-facism. And the French know very well what fascism is when they see it, and smell it, having produced enough fascists of their own during the Vichy years.

And yet Barack Obama and Co. refuse to acknowledge this elephant in the room, or rather tiger. Why? Do they think it'll go away if we just ignore it? Big mistake. For how defeat a rapacious foe if we dare not even call it by its right name? To quote Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center: "Part of this is a semantic battle, but it's a semantic battle that goes to deeper issues. Self-deception is not a good idea in politics or international affairs. We're lying to ourselves, and the world knows it."

Mr. Wehner is not the only one who can see what this administration still refuses to recognize. To quote Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general who once directed this country's Defense Intelligence Agency: "You cannot defeat an enemy that you do not admit exists." As he told a congressional committee the other day: "I really, really strongly believe that the American public needs and wants moral, intellectual and really strategic clarity and courage on this threat." Which is just what We the People are not getting from this administration.

Our president told that international conference last week that the world needed to "put an end to the cycle of hate" that threatens it. His remedy? Jobs, economic aid and subsidies all around. As if ISIL sought a minimum wage instead of maximum conquest. As if this were some kind of economic rather than ideological war that is being waged against us all over the world. It's not. It's a murderous jihad fueled by sheer hatred, just as other fascist threats have been. Yet our cultivated elites, the bien-pensant in their classrooms and conference rooms and State Department briefings, seem afraid to say so. As if they had tacitly adopted a policy of moral disarmament.

Yet even at this otherwise useless international conference and vapid seminar, someone would stand up now and then and let the light in by saying the obvious. This time, would you believe it, it was the United Nations' secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, who warned the other participants: "We will never find our way by discarding our moral compass. We need cool heads. We need common sense. And we must never let fear rule." But so far it's winning.