Lefty Site Vox Notes Obama’s ‘Awkward Attempts to Sidestep the Role of Religion in Islamist Extremism’

The left-leaning website Vox is hardly hostile to President Obama, who recently granted a high-profile interview to two of its bigwigs, Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. National Review editor Rich Lowry commented on the result: “The president has had plenty of worshipful media coverage…[b]ut none has ever been so in keeping with his own self-image and pose as the dispassionate, above-it-all paragon of reasonableness.”

Moreover, a couple of weeks ago Vox writer Max Fisher claimed that those who objected to Obama’s “high horse” remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast were “clinging desperately to their anti-Muslim bigotry” and “furious at Obama for trying to take [it] away from them.” So on Thursday, when Vox ran an article by Fisher critical of Obama for “veer[ing] so far into downplaying Islamist extremism that he appears at times to refuse to acknowledge its existence at all,” it would have been easy to imagine Obama reading it and thinking, “Hey, I thought those guys liked me.”

Fisher took pains to position himself as the clear-eyed alternative to both Obama’s wimpiness and conservatives’ bellicosity: “By refusing difficult questions about the role of religion in violent extremism, Obama is ceding those conversations to people like Bill O'Reilly, who has called Islam a ‘destructive force’ and on Tuesday announced the US was in ‘a holy war.’”

From Fisher’s piece (bolding added):

President Obama does not have an easy line to walk when it comes to discussing Islamist extremism.

On the one hand, the US is at war with ISIS, an Islamist extremist group…[I]t has been fighting al-Qaeda ever since it murdered thousands on September 11…

On the other, Obama is clearly wary of worsening the wave of Islamophobia that ISIS has inspired in the US…It could also indulge ISIS's view (also endorsed by some Americans, unfortunately) that the US is at war with Islam…

Balancing these goals would be extraordinarily difficult for any president. George W. Bush struggled with it throughout his administration. But Obama is faltering. He has veered so far into downplaying Islamist extremism that he appears at times to refuse to acknowledge its existence at all, or has referred to it as violent extremism. While he has correctly identified economic and political factors that give rise to extremism, he has appeared to downplay or outright deny an awkward but important fact: religion plays an important role as well.

This is backfiring. Obama's conspicuous and often awkward attempts to sidestep the role of religion in Islamist extremism end up only drawing more attention to it. By refusing difficult questions about the role of religion in violent extremism, Obama is ceding those conversations to people like Bill O'Reilly, who has called Islam a "destructive force" and on Tuesday announced the US was in "a holy war"…

An honest reading of the Obama administration's policy response to ISIS makes it clear that the president understands that religion and religious devotion are playing a role in the rise of groups such as ISIS. His State Department, for example, is running a large, ambitious campaign, often in partnership with prominent Muslims, to counter ISIS's appeal. They are doing this in part by engaging Muslim communities with theological arguments against violent extremism…

But that does not come through in Obama's statements. Part of the challenge is that, as president, he does not have the luxury of freely sharing his views. He has to consider the impact of his words, particularly in the context of an atmosphere in the US that is already primed for backlash against Muslims.

That background explains how Obama could give an entire speech on Islamist extremism, as he did at the White House's Wednesday summit on countering violent extremism, without once using the phrase "Islamist extremism" or any variation…

But Obama, by refusing to acknowledge that there is such a thing as Islamist extremism, has tied his own hands; he cannot draw a distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism if he pretends the latter does not exist.

Iraq Syria War on Terrorism Religion Islam Moderate Islam Vox Max Fisher Barack Obama


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