In its 2010 National Security Strategy, the Obama administration sought to sever the relationship between Islam and terrorism, rejecting the use of terms like 'Islamic terrorist' and 'jihad' to describe acts of terror.
The linguistic change was a policy shift from the Bush administration and part of Obama's overall strategy to reinvent America's relationship with the Muslim world.
Both are right. And both are wrong. It just depends on the lens you are wearing. And, it depends on how you define God, religion and religious identity which is often influenced by the history, the philosophy and the practice of its people.
Religiously motivated violence adds the dimensions of divine or ultimate authority, religious symbolism, moral justification, motivation and obligation, certitude, and heavenly reward that enhance recruitment and a willingness to fight and die in a sacred struggle.
What does the name "terrorist" tell us about ourselves? Like most good questions, this one is extremely hard to arrive at, for the simple reason that the resistance to asking it is so great. Nevertheless, once we get at it, the answer isn't hard to find.
The power of relaxing the blanket description of "terrorist" and not using it to apply to all Muslims is that it recognizes that there are good and bad apples in all sectors of society and in all religions.
Posted by Susan K. Smith, on July 13, 2010 6:47 PM
While I applaud Obama's desire to "reinvent America's relationship with the Muslim world," his word-manipulation is too clever by half. "We are at war," he says; but he refuses enemy-identification - refuses to face the reality that this is a war of religion.
Posted by Willis E. Elliott, on July 13, 2010 6:09 PM
If Western policy analysts start down the road of defining this or that aspect of Islam for Muslims, this will serve to create divides, not overcome them. The Obama Administration's policy, by contrast, is both practical and wise. In regard to Islam, it can be summarized as 'Don't define people's religion for them; it never works out well.'
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on July 13, 2010 4:24 PM
There is no doubt that the vast majority of people who have recently sought to inflict mass destruction on the United States and its citizens claim to be motivated by their understanding of Islam. But we should not accept their self-definitions.
We need to find the most effective ways to stop terrorists, rather than debate whether to adjective them. Neither President Obama nor any other government official can sever the relationship between Islam and terrorism. Only Islam can, and it hasn't.
Posted by Herb Silverman, on July 12, 2010 11:44 PM
As far as war and violence is concerned the record of no religion is perfect. We tend to interpret religion to suit our needs and to kill our conscience when it begins to raise its voice. We human beings are great at manipulating everything, including religion.
It is not surprising that -- given the majority ethos in American culture, identifying Christianity and perhaps Judaism with good and Islam with evil, alien -- American usage has allowed the description of some terrorists as "Muslim terrorists," but has failed to call IRA killers or those who have killed abortion providers "Christian terrorists."
There have been people and movements that may be accurately described as "Jewish terrorists" or "Christian terrorists." It is up to those of us who represent those traditions to make it clear why their beliefs and actions are contrary to the faith for which they claim to militate.
We do peace loving Muslims no honor by refusing to properly label their violent brethren. Someone who targets innocent people in the name of Islam is an Islamic terrorist. To say otherwise is a cowardly evasion.