June 22, 2016

Obama's Refusal to Address Islam

President Barack Obama speaking in Jacksonville, Florida 10-26-09

Both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been criticized for the level of denial present in some of their public statements about Islam following the mass murder in Orlando. This criticism is nothing specific to Orlando, and it is nothing new; it has been part of a pattern for some time. I believe that much of this criticism is valid, and I agree with critics that the refusal by some on the left to openly address the problems associated with Islam and to acknowledge the need for reform within Islam has strengthened Donald Trump's position with voters. This is a theme I have addressed here frequently.

And yet, as a freethinker, I also believe that it is important to examine reasons why people might do the things they do that do not fall neatly within the scope of what I personally think about them. With that in mind, it occurs to me that there are at least three reasons why an elected official or a politician running for office might make public statements about Islam that sound as regressive as much of what we have heard:
  1. Political correctness/social justice warriorism/regressive leftism
  2. Strategic attempts to deprive the jihadists of what they seem to desire
  3. Concern for the welfare of peaceful Muslim citizens
Most of the criticism I have heard (or offered myself) of recent statements made by Obama and Clinton falls into #1. When one hears speech after speech where it seems like the speaker is going out of his or her way to avoid certain words or phrases that almost anyone else would be using, political correctness seems like an obvious interpretation. It certainly appears that President Obama in particular is going out of his way not to say anything that could possibly offend Muslims.

The problem with this conclusion is that it runs the risk of confusing a set of behaviors and/or the content of one's speech with a motive that may or may not be present. That is, while some of what both Obama and Clinton have said does indeed strike me as politically correct, SJW-ish, and regressive, I don't have a good way of determining whether this is why they are choosing their words so carefully. Perhaps they sound this way because they are operating out of #2 or #3 and not because they are making a deliberate effort to be politically correct, etc.

Consider #2 for a moment. Suppose that Obama and Clinton have assessed the situation and have determined that ISIS and other jihadist groups would like nothing more than to bait the U.S. into prolonged military conflict. Could it be that what they most desire is to have the West openly declare war on Islam itself. This would fuel their persecution narrative and give them the "holy" war they appear to want. Were this to be the case, I could imagine a scenario where Obama, Clinton, and others who had made such an assessment would go out of their way to avoid making any sort of anti-Islam statements. The effect of such a strategy would undoubtedly appear to many of us as denial, political correctness run amok, and the like. It would look a hell of a lot like #1; however, the goals behind it would be rather different.

And then there is #3. Perhaps Obama, Clinton, and whoever else are worried that acts of terrorism which appear to be motivated by Islam will result in retaliation against peaceful Muslims in the U.S. If this was their concern, it would make sense that they would go to great lengths to distance ordinary Muslims - and perhaps even Islam itself - from jihadism broadly and the terrorists' acts more narrowly. Again, I could imagine how someone acting out of this desire could lead one to end up sounding quite regressive. But again, the motivation for it would be very different.

I am aware that some will probably choose to characterize this post as regressive and may use it to label me regressive in spite of everything I have written previously on the subject. My reason for writing it is simple. It is important to me, as a freethinker, that I make an effort to understand where others are coming from and that I force myself to question my judgments about them, especially when my judgments are negative. This is an example of me attempting to do that. I do think that Obama, Clinton, and others are making a mistake by not addressing the many serious problems associated with Islam. And yet, I think it is important to acknowledge that it is at least possible that their motives for avoiding the subject of Islam are not primarily about political correctness.
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