Sheldon Kirshner

Semantic Clarity Required From Obama

Regrettably, President Barack Obama is averse to calling a spade a spade when it comes to labelling terrorism perpetrated by Muslim radicals.

The Obama administration, in the interests of abiding by a strange kind of political correctness, has created the impression that it prefers to use vague rather than direct language to describe the vile misdeeds of terrorists of the Muslim faith.

A couple of days ago, shortly after a Dane of Palestinian Muslim descent killed two people in Copenhagen, Obama delivered a speech about the threat posed by “violent extremism.” Rather than being forthright about this compelling issue, he retreated into the morass of evasiveness.

Here is what he said in a typical passage: “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Who exactly are these people? The answer is obvious, but Obama is loathe to call them out by their name.

Presumably, the White House has adopted this tactic so as not to empower terrorist groups that claim that the West and Islam are at war, a theme often mentioned by Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

Islam, in fact, is not locked in a life-and-death struggle with the West. Nor do most Muslims think so. It’s true that the majority of Muslims still flinch in horror and resentment at what Western colonialism wrought in their region in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This belief, however, does not necessarily translate into support for the nihilistic outlook of radical Islam. Indeed, one suspects that most Muslims subscribe to a moderate form of Islam and categorically reject the divisive and destructive ideology of Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

If one proceeds from this assumption, the Obama administration has no logical reason for being so semantically careful and cautious in describing the brutal acts of terrorism committed by Muslims of the extremist political persuasion.

Obama’s reluctance to liberate himself from this semantic self-delusion is distressing.

Self-deception does not work in the harsh and unforgiving arena of international politics. It only creates an image of weakness, which plays directly into the hands of the terrorists the United States and its allies are currently trying to crush.

Or as Michael Flynn, the former director of the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency, said last week, “You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists. I really, really strongly believe that the American public needs and wants moral, intellectual and really strategic clarity and courage on this threat.”

The United States has effectively been at war with the forces of radical Islam since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Today, the battles are being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Egypt and other countries in the volatile Middle East. And with the rise of Islamic State, Iran and the “lone wolf” phenomenon, this war has reached Iraq, Syria and the cities of Europe, Canada and South America.

At a time like this, when sacred Western values and liberties are threatened by the march of radical Islam, Obama must rise to the challenge and, at the very least, refrain from exhibiting semantic obfuscation and cowardice.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,