The president’s first assertion is trickier. Is the Islamic State “not Islamic”? Moreover, is it really “clear” that it’s not Islamic? Not even a little? Is it Islamic-ish?
If we’re talking clarity, I’d say the Islamic State is clearly not Mormon. Or Lutheran. Or Buddhist. It most certainly is not the most extreme example of Quakers gone bad ever recorded. As for its not being Islamic, that’s at best unclear, if not just clearly wrong. And the fact that the majority of its victims are Muslim is irrelevant. Lenin and Stalin killed thousands of Communists and socialists; that doesn’t mean Lenin and Stalin weren’t Communists and socialists. If such terrorists who kill Muslims aren’t Muslims, why do we give them Korans when we imprison them?
The president faces the same dilemma that bedeviled George W. Bush, and I sympathize with him. It is not in our interest for the Muslim world to think we are at war with Islam, not just because it is untrue but more specifically because we desperately need the cooperation of Muslim nations. That’s why Bush constantly proclaimed “Islam means peace.”
But it also seems flatly wrong for an American president to be declaring what is or is not Islamic — or Christian or Jewish. Given the First Amendment alone, there’s something un-American in any government official simply declaring what is or is not a religion.
Bush’s formulation in his September 20, 2001, address to Congress was better: “The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”
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