It’s the political silly season – or at least the start of it – and candidates are grasping at anything to use as a weapon to garner support. Into this cauldron is thrown the religion of Islam and the terrorists of the Islamic State, with the terminology providing the fault line.
The left refuses to use the term “Islam” when discussing the Islamic State, preferring to completely separate the religion from terrorist’s actions. The right, on the other hand, seems to firmly believe the solution to defeating the Islamic State is precisely using the term Islam whenever discussing terrorism.
Does it really matter? The right states that if you can’t even name the enemy, you can’t ever win, but doesn’t that beg the question of the name itself? I mean, if I called all Nazis in World War II Peter Pumpkin Eaters, and every one of my soldiers and allies did the same thing, would it matter one whit if they continued to call themselves Nazis? Would that really have caused D-Day to fail? By the same token, by not using Islam when discussing terrorism, have we really harmed our ability to fight it?
The left will tell you that they don’t believe in conflating the Muslim religion with terrorism, and that Islam has nothing to do with the Islamic State. In their eyes, yes, the name definitely matters – and not in a good way. They believe that using Islam when discussing terrorism conveys the very legitimacy the terrorists crave, and will only help recruit future terrorists while turning off moderate Muslims. It paints a narrative of “us versus them” and plays directly into the terrorists’ goals. Thus, their belief that separating Islam from all terrorism discourse is the best course of action.
But is it? While it matters not at all what I call the enemy when I’m squeezing the trigger, there is a more fundamental reason to link the two in public discourse: In not doing so, we effectively absolve the religion of all responsibility, and by extension, relieve 1.6 billion peaceful adherents of the duty to take action.
Many will say that Islam itself isn’t the root cause of Islamic terrorism, and that the answers can be found in societal woes like poverty/despotic tyrants/no opportunity/alienation/put your own cause here. Yes, of course, those things may certainly be a catalyst, but it doesn’t explain other support. Osama bin Laden himself was a scion of the bin Laden family, one of the richest families in Saudi Arabia, and had none of the issues described in reams of research. How is his radicalization explained? When all of the usual suspects are eliminated, as they are in his case, what’s left? Islam.
Currently, the Islamic State receives funding through a variety of means: Oil production, selling of captured antiquities, hostage ransom – and private donations from wealthy Gulf Arabs. What explains the latter? It’s certainly not poverty. Forget the vaunted 1%. The men providing the funds would represent the .0001% in the United States. It’s not a despotic government. These same men are immune from any governmental interference. And it’s not a lack of opportunity, so what are we left with? The answer is simple and obvious: They believe in the ideology espoused. An Islamic ideaology.
Plenty of analysts have researched why a person would decide to put on a suicide vest and have compiled a host of different reasons, most centered around the individual’s self actualization vis a vis a lack of opportunity or discrimination, but I’ve seen no analysis on why someone would pay for the vest in the first place. We know it’s happening – in the words of the State Department, “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” – and we’ve tried hard to get wealthy Gulf States to stop it, but the fact remains that it is occurring, and it can’t be explained away with convenient societal pressures. There is another reason, and it’s fairly simple: a fundamental belief in the perverted brand of Islam the terrorists use to justify their actions. The wealthy Gulf Arabs who are providing support are not unique. For every one who can donate a million dollars for the purchase of death making materials, there are four or five who can’t provide a dime, but believe the same way. In the grand scheme of the overall Muslim population, it’s a small number, to be sure, but it exists, and as long as it does, so will Islamic terrorism—which has an outsized impact with respect to a percentage of the total. Remember, it only took five men with box cutters to kill 3,000. And therein lies the rub.
In order to truly defeat Islamic terrorism, the ideology must be addressed, and the only way it can be is within Islam itself. By continually removing Islam from the discussion, we allow the religion, as a whole, the ability to ignore self-reflection and reform. We allow the overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims the excuse that it isn’t their religion, when it most assuredly is.
Can you imagine the ridicule if someone were to design a campaign against alcoholism and refuse to discuss alcohol? Because, Lord knows we wouldn’t want to paint everyone who has a drink as an alcoholic, and we can find a host of other reasons why someone opened the bottle. That would be ludicrous, and yet that is exactly what we are doing when we disassociate Islam from the discussion of Islamic terrorism.
Eventually, if he is to survive, an alcoholic will have an intervention, and that intervention will be with people he trusts. People who understand the complex web that has encircled his life. A stranger telling him to knock it off won’t do it, and it’s the same problem with Islam. The West can’t do it. Only the Muslim majority can, but like the alcoholic, the first step is admitting there is a problem.
By not referring to Islam – by using euphemisms like “violent extremism” – we are ignoring the root of the issue because we’re worried about insulting an entire religion based on the actions of a few. Maybe it’s time we did so. Maybe it’s time to cause a little strife. To cause Islam to reflect.
To admit Islam’s got a problem.