The Obama administration has just announced its intent to ban all words that allude to Islam from important national security documents. Put differently, the Obama administration has just announced its intent to ban all knowledge and context necessary to confront and defeat radical Islam (news much welcomed by Islamist organizations like CAIR). While this move may reflect a naively therapeutic administration — an Obama advisor once suggested that Winnie the Pooh should inform U.S foreign policy — that Obama, the one U.S. president who best knows that politically correct niceties will have no effect on the Muslim world is enforcing this ban, is further troubling.
An Associated Press report has the disturbing details:
President Barack Obama's advisers plan to remove terms such as "Islamic radicalism" from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.
First off, how, exactly, does the use of terms such as "Islamic radicalism" indicate that the U.S. views "Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism"? It is the height of oversensitivity to think that the so-called "Muslim street" can be antagonized by accurate words in technical U.S. documents — documents they don't know or care about — especially since the Arabic media itself often employs such terms. Surely we can use "Islamic radicalism" to define, well, Islamic radicals, without simultaneously viewing all Muslims "through the lens of terrorism"? Just as surely as we can use words like "Nazism" to define white supremacists, without viewing all white nations through the lens of racism?
The AP report continues:
Obama's speechwriters have taken inspiration from an unlikely source: former President Ronald Reagan. Visiting communist China in 1984, Reagan spoke at Fudan University in Shanghai about education, space exploration and scientific research. He discussed freedom and liberty. He never mentioned communism or democracy.
The analogy is flawed. For starters, in Reagan's era, the Soviet Union, not China, was America's prime antagonist — just as today, Islamic radicals, not Muslims, are America's prime enemy. Moreover, unlike Obama, who would have the U.S. bend over backwards to appease Muslim nations— or, in his case, just bend over — Reagan regularly lambasted the Soviet Union, dubbing it the "evil empire." Finally, the Chinese never attacked America, unlike Islamic radicals, who not only have attacked it, but daily promise it death and destruction — all in the name of Islam.
The ultimate problem in the White House's new "words-policy," however, is reflected in this excerpt from the report:
The change [i.e., linguistic obfuscation] would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century."
No doubt this important document will soon say something totally meaningless like "The struggle against extremism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century." Such changes bode ill for the future. For it is one thing to carefully choose your words when directly addressing Muslims; it is quite another to censor American analysts and policy-makers from using the necessary terms that conceptualize who the enemy is and what he wants.
The situation is dire. Words aside, there is already a lamentable lack of study concerning Muslim war doctrine in the curriculum of American military studies, including in the Pentagon and U.S. Army War College. Obama's more aggressive censorship program will only exacerbate matters: another recently released strategic document, the QDR, nary mentions anything remotely related to Islam — even as it stresses climate change, which it sees as an "accelerant of instability and conflict" around the world.
At any rate, as I have argued several times before, the U.S. government needs to worry less about which words appease Muslims — another governmental memo warns against "offending," "insulting," or being "confrontational" to Muslims — and worry more about providing its own citizenry with accurate knowledge concerning its greatest enemy.
In short, knowledge is inextricably linked to language. The more generic the language, the less precise the knowledge it imparts; conversely, the more precise the language, the more precise the knowledge. In the conflict against Islamic radicalism, to acquire accurate knowledge, which is essential to victory, we need to begin with accurate language.
This means U.S. intelligence analysts and policymakers need to be able to use, and fully appreciate the significance of, words related to Islam — starting with the word "Islam" itself, i.e., submission. It means the U.S. military needs to begin expounding and studying Islamic war doctrine — without fear of reprisal. In short, it means America's leadership needs to take that ancient dictum — "Know thy enemy"— seriously.
Deplorably enough, nearly a decade after the Islamist-inspired attacks of 9/11, far from knowing its enemy, the U.S. government is today not even prepared to acknowledge its enemy, which is doubly problematic, as knowledge begins with acknowledgment.
Nor is there much room for optimism: If the Obama administration can easily expose America to attack by reducing our physical defenses, surely a subversion of our intellectual safeguards — that is, a subversion of subtle but vital knowledge — will go unchecked.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.