What’s in a name?
According to thirteen-year-old Juliet Capulet, not much of anything. Why should she and her beloved Romeo be kept apart because she is a Capulet and he is a Montague?
Besides, she says, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Our gratitude to Shakespeare for giving us this insight into the teenage mind.
In one sense, Juliet is correct. But, a rose by any other name would not be a rose either. And, like it or not Juliet was not a rose. Neither was Romeo.
Among the more curious aspects of the current debate over Islamic terrorism is President Obama's refusal to call Islamic terrorism Islamic terrorism.
Republican presidential candidates have highly critical of this failure. Today, a Muslim writer, Fareed Zakaria comes to Obama’s defense. For his part Zakaria has been willing to call Islamist terrorism by its proper name. But he has defended the president for being unwilling to do the same. In particular, he did so in an article entitled: “What’s in a Name?”
If it doesn’t matter what you call it, why go out of your way not to call it radical Islam?
One is constrained to note that the repercussions that follow from the word choice of Zakaria and Obama are not equal.
In Zakaria’s words:
Obama and Clinton have chosen not to describe the enemy as “radical Islam” out of deference to the many Muslim countries and leaders who feel it gives the terrorists legitimacy. President George W. Bush was similarly careful in his rhetoric. For this reason, throughout the Middle East, the Islamic State is called Daesh , an acronym with derogatory connotations.
And yet, President Obama seems completely befuddled over what to do about the situation he allowed to fester in Syria and Iraq. If he had been a forceful and resolute commander, if he had shown something resembling emotion after the Islamist terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, Zakaria might have a point.
When Republican candidates denounce the Obama administration’s non-policy, its pusillanimous refusal to risk any civilian casualties, its willingness to allow the oil trucks to continue moving for fear that taking them out would harm the environment, the problem seems to be beyond naming. Or else, that the failure to name is a symptom of a more significant policy failure.
It may be that refusing to call the enemy by its name is a clear sign that Obama has no stomach for a fight against any Muslims, no matter how much they have perverted what he and his predecessor have called a religion of peace.
Zakaria suggests that Obama’s refusal amounts to an act of deference to other Muslim countries. He believes that calling radical Islam radical Islam legitimizes the Islamic State.
The reasoning is peculiar, to say the least. And it ignores the importance of reputation. It seems more likely that Obama and other Muslims want to pretend that terrorist actions do not have any impact on the reputation of Islam around the world. But, if that is the case, other Muslim nations would be absolved of having to help destroy ISIS.
In an effort to salvage the reputation of Islam, the Obama administration has shown far more fight in the battle against Islamophobia. And yet, why would one not think ill of Islam when millions of Muslims are involved in terrorism and while hundreds of millions of Muslims sympathize with them.
Thus, Obama’s failure to call radical Islam radical Islam translates into inaction on the part of other Muslim countries. He says that we need to be nice to Muslims lest they not help us to defeat Islamic terrorism. And yet, if Muslims do not believe that the actions of ISIS reflect on them, why would they take the risk of joining the fight against it. It’s not their problem.
If the so-called “caliphate” contains both good and bad Muslims, perhaps that explains why Obama is so cautious about bombing it. He is unwilling to kill bad Muslims if the bombs also kill good Muslims. Thus, the Islamic State need but use human shields to protect itself against American bombs.
And, if names do not matter what about blasphemy laws? Why did it happen that cartoonist Molly Norris was “disappeared” by the FBI for encouraging cartoonists to draw pictures of Mohammed? And what about the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo for publishing blasphemous cartoons? Dare we mention the fatwa issued on author Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses. We note that Rushdie survived the fatwa but that several other people associated with the book were murdered.
Muslims are especially sensitive about what politicians and other leaders say about their prophet and their religion. They insist that everyone, everywhere show deference and respect to their religion and its rules. The terrorists want to gain respect for Islam. And theirs is a religion that aspires to world domination. They begin with extorting respect through terrorism.
In Obama they seem to have achieved their goal. When Obama speaks of Islam he often adopts a tone that is properly reverential. Doesn’t this suggest an abiding respect for Islam? Doesn’t it manifest a fear of offending the sensibilities of millions of people who would be prepared to punish him for any blasphemous remark?
When the supposed leader of the free world responds to Islamist terrorist slaughter by showing respect for Islam he is saying that terrorism works. It causes people to have greater respect for the fearsome warriors who are following the word of the Quran. A respect born of fear is better than no respect at all.