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September 12, 2014 1:19 pm

When is an Islamic State Not Islamic?

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Stephen Sotloff with ISIS captor Photo: screengrab

Steven Sotloff with ISIS captor. Photo: screengrab.

In his nationally televised speech on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, President Obama pointedly declared: “The Islamic State [ISIL] is not Islamic.” If the President’s verbal acrobatics sounded familiar they were. And not only because he was echoing Humpty Dumpty’s familiar aphorism: “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

In his memorable Cairo speech in June 2009, the new president referred to “a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.” Citing 9/11 he identified “violent extremists . . . in a small but potent minority of Muslims” who have “exploited these tensions.” That horrific attack “has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to American and Western countries, but also to human rights.” Indeed it had, quite justifiably so.

But, President Obama insisted in his quest for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” America and Islam “share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” It was, he asserted, “part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Now, as the Islamic State rampages through Syria and Iraq, with ambitions for an caliphate stretching far beyond those borders, even The New York Times noted that “its brutal interpretation of Islamic law” guided its path. One may plausibly argue that ISIL/ISIS is hardly representative of the history or culture of Islam – indeed, that it is a monstrous perversion of Islam by committing appalling acts in its name. But to assert, as President Obama recently did, that “ISIL is not Islamic” is not only false but, in the wake of the recent televised beheading of American journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff by ISIL jihadi murderers, surreal.

Barely a week after 9/11 President George W. Bush, addressing Congress, identified Al Qaeda as “a fringe form of Islamic extremism.” His precision stands in sharp contrast to President Obama’s evasion of the obvious relationship between ISIS and Islam, however perverse its inflammatory words and horrific actions may be. As Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who served in the Defense Department between 2002-4, has written (Commentary 9/11): “National security should never be sacrificed upon the alter of political correctness. . . . To pretend that the enemy – ISIS in this case – does not root itself in an interpretation of Islam is simply wrong.”

Yet President Obama persists in wishing away ISIL’s self-proclaimed roots in Islam. “No religion,” he declared in his attempt at exoneration, “condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.” But as Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch and author of best-selling books about Muhammad and Islam, asks: “If the Islamic State were really so obviously un-Islamic, how is it that it came to call itself ‘the Islamic State'”? And why have hundreds of Western Muslims – including, evidently, the ISIS jihadist who beheaded two American journalists – journeyed to the Middle East to join its ranks?

Why, one might wonder, does President Obama either fail to grasp, or decline to assert, the obvious derivation of the Islamic State from Islam? According to the most recent CIA estimate, it now has between 20,000-30,000 fighters on the ground in Syria and Iraq, its growth prompted by stronger recruitment (including hundreds of Western Muslims) and “the declaration of a caliphate.”

Historically, “caliphate” refers to the political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its dominion following the death of Muhammad. ISIS still has a way to go. But for an American president to avert his eyes from the religious (Islamic) roots of ISIS is a form of political myopia with potentially ominous consequences for Americans who have just commemorated the Al Qaeda-inflicted catastrophe now forever known as 9/11.

Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner

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  • S. Klein

    Mr. Auerbach, you are not being entirely honest or forthright here. I just linked to your piece from Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch which I read along with Algemeiner. In my busyness I missed this piece. You wrote:

    “Barely a week after 9/11 President George W. Bush, addressing Congress, identified Al Qaeda as “a fringe form of Islamic extremism.” His precision stands in sharp contrast to President Obama’s evasion of the obvious relationship between ISIS and Islam, however perverse its inflammatory words and horrific actions may be….

    I am a forty three year registered Republican. I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 but not in 2004 in large measure because of what he said and did post 9/11/2001. This is a case in point. What you neglected to mention is the context of this remark before a joint session of Congress and the American people only days after devout Muslim brutally attacked the United States.

    This is what Mr. Bush said: “The terrorists (note the word “terrorists,” not Islamic 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.”

    This is absolutely untrue and misleading. Bush went on to propagate many more untruths in that address and afterward. President Bush continued to mislead the American people about Islam and more importantly about Israel – who he wrongly charged with illegitimately occupying historic Palestinian Muslim lands. I expect this from Barack Obama. I did not expect this from President Bush. I do not expect to hear this from any Republican or conservative leader.

  • Bob

    Obama can’t acknowledge that ISIS, al-Qaeda, or Boko Haram are Islamic without admitting that he has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of international society today.

    Given his self-image of a near-Messiah, being wrong on the facts is pretty damaging.

  • Auerbach is right on the money, and this is not just a matter of semantics. To mis-understand one’s enemy is to invite defeat. Until the United States has a president who clearly understands what the world is up against in terms of jihadist movements encompassing ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, et al, that enemy will not be defeated.

  • Very astute observations, Jerold. It is too unfortunate that Obama takes non-partisan sentiments right over cliffs. His refusal to make red and blue differentiations cost the Democrats the 2010 midterms, and created a poisonous right wing.

  • Jeff Stath

    President Obama has shown himself to be a Muslim in everything he does and he has put America at great risk. He needs to be removed from office imeadiately for treason.
    I pray congress has the will to proceed.

  • Obama is plain stupid. When IS is calling itself 100% Islamic, why the hell is Obama refusing to call them that. As if by not calling a spade a spade, that spade is going to turn into a spoon. What garbage from Obama!

  • shloime

    good beginning, but where’s the rest of it? what conclusions does the author draw? should president obama declare a “holy war” against islam? or like george bush, just drop the occasional reference to a new “crusade”?

    • Mickey Segal

      We don’t want a holy war against Islam. Our fight is with Islamic supremacists. Similarly, our fight in the Civil Rights was against White supremacists, not against Whites. Using the term supremacists makes clear that we are fighting the enemies of freedom.

      President Obama would have been an excellent person to make this point, since to many people, the election of a president who is half White and half Black was an affirmation of the victory over White supremacists. This speech was a missed opportunity for President Obama to make a good point, and instead he looked silly for making a ridiculous claim of IS not being Islamic.

      It is perfect that Islamic state and Islamic supremacists have the same acronym, so we can just refer to the enemy as IS. Or we can run both together and say we are fighting ISIS.

  • Efram

    Obama knows full well the situation, he is merely lying.

  • Fred

    Obama needs some education, some history reading, If he wants to read about the rampages of the likes of ISIS he should read about Tamerlane 1350AD & Gengis Khan 1230Ad they also devastated Asia to Europe on the merits of Islam. It is astonishing how leaders are ignorant about history, he specially trying to give the impression that ISIS is just a happy band of scouts.

  • One possible reason for our President’s outlook may be found in his history with Rev. Wright, who was the President’s pastor before his election. I heard Rev. Wright cursing our country, the country who later elected Barack Obama to the White House, and praising the 9/11 attacks. Rev. Wright, by the way, was associated with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Black Muslims, and a well know anti-Semite.

    I still can’t understand how the future leader of our country, could sit through Rev. Wright’s rants. against the US and Jews.

  • Ben Gruder

    A good way to illustrate this point would be note that we don’t say that Igal Amir is not Jewish, or that Neturei Karta isn’t Jewish. They simply interpret the texts in ways that most of us don’t agree with.

  • Contrary to Obama and his warped view of “Political Correctness,” which requires us to view Islamists such as ISIS and Al-Queda as aberrant groups who do not represent the religion of Islam, a former Muslim calls it like it is and challenges Obama to speak the truth. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  • All of these different Islamic clans are cut out of the same book. When will America wake up?