Presidents Confront (or Evade) Islamic Terrorism
A rising wave of Islamist terrorist attacks has erupted since December – with especially murderous atrocities committed in Peshawar (132 children); Iraq (150 women in Al-Anbar); Cameroon (30); and Gombe (20). Last week’s brutal slaughter of twelve journalists and cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris was triggered by Muslim terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “We are avenging the Prophet Mohammed” as they sprayed bullets into their victims. That horrific assault, followed the next day by the murder of four hostages in a nearby kosher grocery store, provided an international litmus test of presidential leadership – and failure.
Even before the ghastly Paris attack Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, speaking at the thousand year-old Al-Azhar University that is revered as the intellectual home of scholarly Islam, delivered a prescient warning. Addressing an audience of imams, he called for a “religious revolution” under their leadership, in which the recent violent direction of Islam would be scrutinized. He boldly declared: “It is inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!”
Calling for “a more enlightened perspective,” he admonished his audience: “the entire world is waiting for your next move . . . because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands.” Egypt, where Jews were driven out after the birth of the State of Israel and Muslim Brotherhood leaders recently were routinely imprisoned, is hardly a paragon of multiculturalism. But al-Sisi’s presidential language may presage a more tolerant future.
In France, when the Charlie Hebdo carnage was followed by the kosher grocery store murders as the Jewish Sabbath neared, President Francois Hollande explicitly identified and denounced the “appalling anti-Semitic act” that was also “a tragedy for the nation.” We must, he asserted, “be implacable towards racism.” He did not, however, mention “Islamic terrorism.”
While Parisians rallied in sorrow, proclaiming “Je suis Charlie” in identification with the slain journalists and cartoonists whose creativity had inspired Muslim terrorists to murder them, the Obama administration – all too predictably – dithered in denial and evasion. But it was only being consistent. Two years earlier the White House had staked out its position on Charlie Hebdo when spokesman Jay Carney stated: “We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the prophet Muhammad, and obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory.” So much for freedom of the press, a message reinforced by President Obama later that year. Speaking before the United Nations, he warned: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” About those who slaughtered Muhammad’s critics he had nothing to say.
Last week the first White House comments in response to the Paris atrocity came from spokesman Josh Earnest. Refusing to call the massacre an act of terrorism, he offered the predictable pabulum “Islam is a religion of peace” – and therefore should not be associated with the “extremists” in Paris – who just happened to be Muslims. When President Obama issued his own statement, in keeping with his inability to use the term “Islamic terrorism,” he simply referred to the attack as “terrorism.” Who committed the “terrorist attack” he declined to identify. That, to be sure, was an improvement over the administration’s classification of Major Nidal Hassan’s massacre of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood (2009) as “workplace violence” – although even his own attorney labeled it a “jihad.”
American denial does not stop at the White House. Few media outlets – whether newspapers or television news programs – dared to display the offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Perhaps it is time for Egyptian President al-Sisi to schedule a speaking tour in the United States.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner