How Left and Right Are Both Blinded to Islamist Terrorism

A mosque's domed roof. Pixabay/Public domain

Political correctness, cultural relativism and moral cowardice can’t protect us from militant Islamists.

From the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 to the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, Istanbul, Orlando and now Nice, the United States and much of the democratic world has experienced attacks committed by Islamist terrorists. And as we have seen so many times in recent years, politicians on both the left and the right are either unable or unwilling to conceptualize a legitimate response to the problem.

On the right, many Republicans have shown that they understand neither the U.S. Constitution nor American values. From Ben Carson arguing that a Muslim should not be president, to Jeb Bush claiming that only Syrian Christians should be allowed into the country, to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump demanding a wholesale ban on Muslims crossing our borders, to Newt Gingrich demanding that Muslims in the United States be tested on whether they believe in sharia, many prominent Republicans seem unaware of—or unconcerned with—the very values and principles this country is supposed to represent.

Unfortunately, one would be just as hard-pressed to find a politician on the left who has spoken with consistent moral clarity and intelligence about this problem. What we see instead from the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign is the belief that a carefully calibrated strategy of political correctness, cultural relativism and moral cowardice can protect us from militant Islamists. And in the absence of honesty about the nature of the problem, it is easy to see why average citizens would be confused and turn to demagogues for answers and leadership.

Unfortunately, contradictions, confusion and cop-outs in dealing with this problem have been confronting American society for decades. While the Supreme Court tells us that burning the American flag is a legitimate act of protest guaranteed by the constitution, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will lobby some small-time Florida pastor to withdraw his support for an inane video. Whereas Americans have been told that putting a crucifix in a jar of urine is a “work of artistic expression” with a legitimate place in a museum, Secretary of State John Kerry can claim that because of some cartoons, the terrorists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices had “a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry.” In May 2013, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood before the caskets of four dead Americans and decried the fact that an “awful internet video” had caused “rage and violence against American embassies.” Yet on other occasions Clinton has been much more supportive of artistic freedom; for instance, after posing for pictures with the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot Clinton tweeted that she was “proud to meet strong [and] brave young women.” It should be noted that Pussy Riot became famous for standing before the altar of a cathedral and singing “Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!”

President Obama, for his part, continues to argue that the view that there is any connection between groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS and Islam “is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.” In line with this view, it is becoming standard governmental practice to avoid any public acknowledgement of the nature of the threat we are facing. In November 2009, when Nidal Hasan, a man who had been in direct communication with Al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, killed thirteen people and wounded dozens more in Fort Hood, TX, his actions were reduced to “workplace violence.” In July 2015, when a man who had a history of declaring his intent to become a “martyr” and who had downloaded videos by al-Awlaki killed four marines and a Navy sailor in Chattanooga, an FBI official described the attack as the work of a “homegrown violent extremist.” When Omar Mateen killed forty-nine people at a nightclub in Orlando, the official FBI transcripts of his calls deleted mention of the fact that he had had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And perhaps most depressing of all, after almost three thousand people were killed in the World Trade Center attacks, the 9/11 Commission decided to redact twenty-eight pages of evidence for fear of upsetting the Saudis.

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