We Need to Mirror the President on “Extremist” Label
If you follow our American news even a little you’ve probably noted the flap over President Obama’s recent comments on terrorists in the Middle East and Africa. If you’re not familiar, there’s been a lot of controversy over at least a couple related elements:
- That he continually calls the fighters concentrated in Syria and Iraq who label their organization an “Islamic State” simply “terrorists” or “extremists” without the inclusion of “Islamic”. He reinforces the point by saying, repeatedly, that we must not think of the conflict as a war against Islam — even if just one extreme expression of it. It is also not a “clash of civilizations”.
- In a recent important speech he rankled many (particularly conservatives) by reminding fellow Christians that historically many, on a large scale, have perpetrated atrocities in the name of Christ. It is not that different from current terrorists using Islam as cover for their twisted ways. (And the point is not whether the parallels are exact but that claiming alliance with a religion or spiritual leader is not the same as being a faithful follower, validly bearing the name… that all religions are vulnerable to being hijacked this way.) He warns against a smug “we’re superior” attitude.
All this President Obama is quite right about. As an aside, it is refreshing to me to observe that in him we have a president who seems to be spiritually aware and truly more theologically adept than any president for a long, long time. Of course, he properly speaks very little about it.
Now to the main point: whether to call the largest (or any) group of terrorists “Islamic” or not. If it were mere grammar knit-picking I wouldn’t weigh in. But it’s more. I think the administration’s insistence is prompting important deeper thinking and a conversation that is needed. More Americans, and others, need to get “on board” with him on this.
To me the issues are clearly about levels of personal and societal development more than they are about any religion. (To my knowledge, it is Integral Theory… some of the writings of Ken Wilber and others following his basic model of human and societal development… that best explains why we have terrorists, what motivates them, etc. And Wilber actively calls on religious leaders to help religion (whether Christianity, Islam, or whatever) play the positive developmental role it can and should play toward virtually eliminating the seedbeds of terrorism. Another very insightful resource on this is Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.)
The issues also have to do with regions of the world and the economic, political and other factors in play there. Yes, religion plays a part because it is a major aspect of how people structure their personal and societal lives. But religions are widely diverse within their own “boundaries”. So if we agree to accept Middle Eastern terrorists’ self-label as Islamic or as a valid expression of Islam I believe, as President Obama has also stated, that we actually support and reinforce their narrative. If they are seen by young and impressionable Muslims or youth open to Islam from Western along with Middle Eastern countries as having a religiously-based utopian ideal, it seems no matter how many atrocities they publicly commit and revel in, these young people can be sucked in. They are being drawn in, apparently by the thousands. Take away at least some of this recruiting power by demonstrating clearly that there is nothing validly religious about their cause – that it is a demonic kind of brutality and barbarism for selfish, not selfless ends, and we might begin to disempower their evil.
What are your thoughts?