Obama on Islamic (shhhh) Terror

It was an extraordinary front page even for the New York Post—a tabloid known for unusual front pages. There was a photo of U.S. President Barack Obama wearing a blindfold and the words: “Islamic terror? I just don’t see it.”

The Post front page came last week as barbarous acts of Islamic terror continued and The White House held a conference on violent extremism—with an insistence that it not be called Islamic or Muslim violent extremism.

The accompanying Post story on an address Obama had just given at the “Countering Violent Extremism” conference began: “They’re burning and beheading victims in the name of Islam but President Barack Obama delivered a major speech Wednesday on combating violent extremism—while refusing to use the words ‘Muslim terrorists.’”

With its huge number of online readers, the Drudge Report reproduced the front page of the Post as its main graphic.

The Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and the Drudge Report, are considered conservative media. But criticism of the refusal by Obama to call the radical Islam spade a spade, and a pitch by him and his administration that economics and jobs are keys to Islamic terrorism extended well beyond the right-wing.

U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democrat like Obama and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, declared on Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room” on CNN “that it’s so important that we recognize that these people are being motivated from different parts of the world by a spiritual, a theological motivation, which is this radical Islamic ideology.”

Gabbard, who served with the Hawaii Army National Guard in Iraq, said “the administration is misidentifying the enemy and their motivation by saying that they are motivated out of materialistic aspirations, that they’re motivated out of poverty, of a lack of jobs or education or opportunity and as a result, the courses of action that the administration is proposing are also materialistic in nature, saying that if we just go in and alleviate poverty, if we go in and create jobs and increase opportunity and institute this Western style of democracy, that somehow this is going to solve the problem, when really, that’s not the case.”

“Nonsense about terrorism’s ‘root causes’” was the title of an article on CNN’s website by Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, professor at Arizona State University where he is co-director of the Center on the Future of War and author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad.

Bergen noted how “we have heard from Obama administration officials and even the president himself that terrorism has something to do with lack of opportunities and poverty,” and then detailed the comfortable backgrounds of many Islamic terrorist figures.

He stated: “So if it’s clearly not deprivation that is driving much Islamist terrorism, what is? For that we must turn to ideology, specifically religious ideology…But the administration seems uncomfortable with making the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam.”

Bergen continued: “The Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups are not, of course, secular organizations. To treat them as if they were springs from some combination of wishful thinking, PC [political correctness] gone crazy and a failure to accept, in an increasingly secularized era, that some will kill in the name of their god, an all-too-common phenomenon across human history.”

“ISIS sees itself as the vanguard army that is bringing back true Islam to the world,” Bergen said. “This project is of such cosmic importance that they will break any number of eggs to make this omelet, which accounts for their murderous campaign against every ethnic group, religious group and nationality that they perceive as standing in their way. ISIS recruits also believe that we are in the end times, and they are best understood as members of an Islamist apocalyptic death cult.”

Former deputy CIA director Michael Morell said on CBS This Morning: “I understand what the president is saying and I agree with it. We do not want to create the perception that we are at war with a religion. But the reality is that Al Qaeda and ISIS believe they are religious warriors. They believe that they are fighting on behalf of their religion, for their religion. It’s not rhetoric on their part, they really believe it.”

Scott Shane in The New York Times, in a front page piece on Obama headlined “Faulted for Avoiding ‘Islamic’ Labels” wrote: “Mr. Obama’s verbal tactics have become a target for a growing chorus of critics who believe the evasive language is a sign that he is failing to look squarely at the threat from militant Islam.”

Shane related that Obama’s predecessor, U.S. President George W. Bush, “struggled at times to find the right terms for the fight against Al Qaeda.” Finally, in a 2005 speech Bush said, “Some call this evil Islamic radicalism…Others, militant jihadism. Still, others Islamo-fascism.” Shane reported on how “he went on to regularly use the term ‘Islamic radicalism,’ which Mr. Obama has shunned.”

The criticism of Obama and his administration on refusing to recognize the radical Islamic violence link, and what one right-wing website described as a notion of “Jobs for Jihadists,” is especially strong among conservatives;

The conservative syndicated columnist of the Washington Post, Charles Krautthamer, who is also a psychiatrist, called Obama’s speech at the “Countering Violent Extremism” conference “divorced from reality.” It was “as if you refused to call Nazis ‘Nazis’ because they were not authentic socialists and they had a perverted idea of nationalism. You simply have to say, of course, they are a branch of Islam, a very important one, they are all over the world, and unless you address the Islamic roots of it, you will get absolutely nowhere in trying to stop the recruiting and to stop their advances.”

U.S. Representative Peter King, a conservative Long Island Republican, told Marcia Kramer on WCBS-TV in New York City that believing that jobs can help stop jihad “is absolute insanity. We are at war with ISIS. You don’t win a war with a jobs program…The only way we’re going to defeat ISIS is to kill them—kill them before they get here to kill us—and stop this nonsense about somehow this is because they’re deprived or they had a sad childhood. You don’t cut peoples’ heads off on the shores of Tripoli because you didn’t have a job. These people are animals, they’re savages, and they’re murderers—and the sooner the Obama administration realizes it, the better.”

Meanwhile, pointing last week to Obama’s ties to Islam—and charging a bias—was Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He noted how Obama’s father was a Muslim as was his stepfather. His “life experiences have been surrounded by Islam,” he said on Greta Van Susteren’s On the Record program on Fox News. He alleged that Obama has “given a pass to Islam. He’s refusing to accept and understand the evil that is in front of him.”

CNN reported last week on its poll that found “Americans are increasingly unhappy with President Barack Obama’s handling of ISIS, and a growing share of the nation believes that fight is going badly.” It said some 57% of those queried “disapprove of how Obama is handling the threat posed by ISIS, a significant decline in support.”

Still, on the Slate Magazine website, William Saletan had a different interpretation of what’s going on. It isn’t, he wrote, that Obama is “unable to see, or unwilling to acknowledge, that the vast majority of terrorism in recent years has been perpetrated by Muslims. This view of Obama is mistaken. There’s a difference between what he says about Islam and what he thinks about it. The difference isn’t dishonesty. It’s prudence. Obama understands that today’s terrorism is profoundly connected to the Muslim world. But the connections are manufactured and destructible. To break them, we have to deny terrorists what they want: crude associations of Islam and violence.”

Al Qaeda and ISIS “claim Islam as their foundations. Yes, they target Muslims for recruitment. But these associations are matters of political strategy and social network,” Saletan wrote. “They aren’t inherently grounded in Islamic theology.”

Then there’s been U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf on the Obama defense. A 2012 Obama campaign staffer and formerly a spokesperson for the Central Intelligence Agency, she was busy on the TV talk show circuit last week “We cannot kill our way out of this war,” she declared on the Chris Matthews’ MSNBC show. “We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s a lack of opportunity for jobs.” She said “we can work with countries around the world to improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.” With the criticism of this, Wolf Blitzer on CNN followed up asking: “So you suggested that maybe if you find these young men jobs, they might not become terrorists?”

Harf said “it might be too nuanced an argument for some, like I’ve seen over the last 24 hours the commentary out there, but it’s really the smart way.”

Matt Vespa on the conservative website commented that “there’s nothing ‘nuanced’ about it,” that Harf “would flatter herself into believing that she had spoken over the nation’s heads,” and it “reflects the hubris that explains her insultingly naïve belief that this abhorrent ideology can only be defeated by an army of career counselors.”

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for more than 50 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up with Karl Grossman,” (, the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and author of seven books.