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April 5, 2016 6:57 am

No True Scotsman: The Logical Fallacy of Obama’s ISIS Policy

avatar by Richard Landes and Elchanan Poupko

Email a copy of "No True Scotsman: The Logical Fallacy of Obama’s ISIS Policy" to a friend
President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikipedia.

President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikipedia.

Paris, San Bernardino and now Brussels. Once again, the world is horrified by another heinous attack committed by radical Muslims. And once again, questions on the nature of Islam, are sizzling in scholarly circles, the media, and our social communities.

Are these attacks a reflection of what Islam really believes or not? Scholars, political figures, and society as a whole are all divided by this question. Is Islam a religion that promotes violence or not? Many in the media believe that these attacks have nothing to do with Islam.

But arguing that these attacks are not reflective of Islam’s true beliefs runs contrary to a well-known rule of logic: the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. When someone makes a blanket claim, such as, “No Scotsman would do such a thing,” and then is presented with proof that a Scotsman has done such a thing, he responds: “Well, no true Scotsman would do such a thing.” In a world of such logical fallacies, no rule can be proved right or wrong, since once can always respond, “Well, that is not the real one.”

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This seems to be the working pattern for dealing with outbreaks of Muslim violence. Yet in the case of Brussels, this fallacy is even worse.

Normally, one would expect the defense of “not a true Scotsman” to come from a fellow Scotsman seeking to defend the good name of the Scottish people. In this case, one would expect Muslims to be the ones to immediately cry out, “Not a true Muslim!” And yet, it is usually Westerners who do the work for them.

While there is no question that millions of Muslims seek to live in peace and civility, they can’t just make the statement, “Not a true Muslim” when an attack happens; they have to do something about it. Yet, all too often, many Muslim groups condemn all those those who speak about violent, radical Islam by charging them with Islamophobia. In other words, Muslims seem more concerned about the honor of Islam than confronting the terrible problem of Muslim-inspired violence.

The issue becomes all the more problematic when it is Western leaders who seek to defend Islam before acknowledging the problem of Islamic violence. President Obama, and many of his administration’s highest officials, have publicly projected the following principles as the operating rules of their administration’s dealing with terror. First, Islam is a religion of peace. Second, jihadi terrorists who murder innocent civilians in the name of Islam have completely perverted and hijacked their religion; their beliefs and actions have nothing to do with Islam. Third, we should not use the term Islam to describe the terrorists, lest we insult the vast majority of Muslims, who might then be driven into the arms of the extremists.

The inconsistency of this syllogism is striking: We dare not insult peaceful, moderate Muslims by calling their extremists “radical” or “violent” Muslims, lest we drive them to join people who, we assure you, have nothing to do with Islam.

Not too long ago, President Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the “vast majority” of Muslims — that is, “99.9% of Muslims” — do not share the “almost medieval views” of ISIS and other terror groups. This extraordinary statement is clearly not based on any research, and is just a rhetorical figure of speech, illustrates the “no true Scotsman” fallacy — that no true Muslim would engage in violence and terror; and anyone who does is not part of the 99.9% of true Muslims. If this were so, ISIS’ ranks would be far fewer than they are.

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