The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Major Address

Over the past few weeks, spokespeople for the new Obama administration have indicated that the President-Elect plans a ”major address in an Islamic Capital” as an attempt at rapprochement with Islam and to mend the perceived damage done the by Bush administration. Last week, Obama was quoted by The Chicago Tribune on the subject:
"The message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the terrorist extremism we saw in Mumbai."

Although the thrust of Obama’s comments is appropriate, the new President, like the old one, dances around the real problem. Amir Tehrani comments on Obama’s phrasing:
Note also that he [Obama] talks of "terrorist extremism," not "Islamic" or even "Islamist" terrorism.

The reason, of course, is his desire not to ruffle Muslim feathers. And herein lies the fundamental weakness of his position.

If the terrorism we saw on 9/11 and many other occasions has nothing to do with Islam, then why bring up the issue with Muslim leaders rather than Buddhist monks? Alternately, if this type of terrorism does have Islamic roots, why not give it its proper designation?

In fact, Islamic feathers need to be ruffled if we are to defeat Islamic terrorism. Muslims should be told that they've been too complacent in recognizing the threat.

To be sure, not all Muslims are terrorists. But virtually all terrorists are Muslims. Nor do they live on another planet: They are recruited, trained and sheltered in Muslim countries. Individual Muslims and Islamic charities finance them; Islamic governments provide them with passports and safe havens. The media regimes in most Muslim countries (often state controlled) propagate the very themes that sustain the terrorist ideology in its different versions.

Since 9/11, virtually every world leader has tried hard—very hard—to avoid the implication that Islam and terrorism are connected. They have tried hard—very hard—to emphasize that most Moslems are moderate, that the “religion of peace” is not the problem. And yet, hatred of the West in Arab capitals and among a non-trivial percentage of the world’s Moslems continues unabated.

Although Islamic extremists exist in almost all predominantly Islamic countries, they are concentrated, funded, and encouraged in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Anthropologists and sociologists note that these cultures put extremely high value on family and tribal honor and view Western style “straight talk” as an insult, even when it is meant as a simple critique. Reacting to this reality, Western leaders tip-toe around the core problems and seem impotent in their conversations with the world of Islam.

In a recent post, I noted:
Our war on Islamist terror will continue. We’ll use our diplomatic efforts to change perceptions of the West in the Islamic community, our most generous financial aid to alleviate the poverty that a broken Arab culture visits on its own, our best methods of intelligence to thwart attacks before they happen, and our best and bravest warriors to defeat terrorist scum when they do attack. But it won’t be enough – never has been, never will be.

Until the broader Islamic community demonstrates against terror with the same vehemence they used to demonstrate against cartoons, terror will never be defeated. I worry that that won’t happen.

If Barack Obama decides to speak directly and publicly with Islamic leaders and a broader worldwide audience of Moslems, he must deliver that message. Specifically, we in the West need to see more outrage in the Arab street over acts of Islamist barbarism. We need to see tangible actions by Moslems that ferret out and eliminate Islamist terrorists and their sympathsizers in Moslem countries. We need to see less silence and a lot more action. And we need to see it now.