When eu­phemism and eva­sion cover sin and evil

The pres­i­dent’s lec­ture on lan­guage misses the point of iden­ti­fy­ing the en­emy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Suzanne Fields

Tragedy brings out the best in peo­ple and the worst in peo­ple. When it’s pre­sented on stage we hold with Aris­to­tle that it evokes pity, fear and the ter­ri­fy­ing un­der­stand­ing that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

To the an­cient Greek philoso­pher, tragedy of­fered insight into the mind of a hero with a fa­tal flaw. An au­di­ence is in­vited to feel emo­tion di­rectly through the power of the words and dra­matic ac­tion.

When tragedy takes place in re­al­ity and strikes closer to home, we read the de­tails and watch the tele­vi­sion im­ages with hor­ror, try­ing to fathom the depths of the un­fath­omable. In Or­lando, tragedy struck in the heart of a com­mu­nity, where friends were con­fronted by an over­whelm­ing evil that spilled blood in a plea­sure dome aptly named Pulse, for quick­en­ing the spirit. It was the kind of place rad­i­cal Is­lamists would nat­u­rally want to de­stroy.

When Omar Ma­teen fired away, friends tried to pro­tect friends, some­times shield­ing their bod­ies with their own, des­per­ately seek­ing places to hide, even re­turn­ing to the build­ing to res­cue oth­ers. We send prayers and con­do­lences to the griev­ing as we pon­der, with­out the gloss of po­etry, how such things can hap­pen.

It’s a hideous pic­ture of car­nage, a mes­sage not from a man with a sin­gle flaw, but from a pure vil­lain with evil am­bi­tion ab­sorbed through rad­i­cal Is­lamic in­doc­tri­na­tion that di­rected him from a nar­row read­ing of the Ko­ran. Omar Ma­teen was warped by the evil that evil men tell men and women to kill so they can die them­selves as mar­tyrs.

When Pres­i­dent Obama de­scribes Ma­teen’s act as “home­grown,” he misses the point. The roots of Ma­teen’s “home­grown” evil go deep into the evil of the Is­lamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, and its con­duits of vast me­dia net­works. Ma­teen was one evil man rep­re­sent­ing many evil men de­ter­mined to per­pet­u­ate ji­had. They have a vo­cab­u­lary that uni­fies them, but we don’t have a vo­cab­u­lary that uni­fies us.

The pres­i­dent adamantly ob­jects to chang­ing his de­scrip­tive lan­guage, sug­gest­ing that such change is mean­ing­less and he scolds those who ask him to do that as scor­ing empty po­lit­i­cal points.

“For a while now the main con­tri­bu­tion of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to crit­i­cize the ad­min­is­tra­tion and me for not us­ing the phrase ‘rad­i­cal Is­lam,’” he says. “That’s the key, they tell us. We can­not beat ISIL un­less we call them ‘rad­i­cal Is­lamists.’ What ex­actly would us­ing this la­bel ac­com­plish? What ex­actly would it change?”

Well, since he asked, it would of­fer a pre­cise un­der­stand­ing of its ap­peal as a per­verted in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam. Us­ing such a pre­cise phrase would give cover to mil­lions of peace­ful Mus­lims who are out­raged by what is car­ried out in the name of their re­li­gion. It would iden­tify its ap­peal to young men and women whose rad­i­cal­ism is fun­da­men­tally ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal, but who call them­selves Mus­lims. It would draw at­ten­tion to the mosques, and there are hun­dreds of them across the land, that preach vi­o­lent pol­i­tics, not a faith of the heart and spirit. It would an­swer the mis­taken pre­scrip­tion to bar all Mus­lims from Amer­ica, and draw the is­sue as one that the na­tion’s se­cu­rity is threat­ened by “rad­i­cal Is­lam,” not Is­lam.

This mes­sage from the pres­i­dent would ex­plain the Or­wellian ap­peal of an­other “home­grown” man who has had such a strong in­flu­ence on as­pir­ing ter­ror­ists. The “ser­mons” of the Amer­i­can cleric An­war al-Awaki, who was tar­geted for death by the CIA in 2011, were ea­gerly con­sumed by Ma­teen as well as by the Bos­ton Marathon bombers, the San Ber­nadino shoot­ers and the Fort Hood killer. These men all be­came sol­diers of their “faith,” not merely sol­diers of some­thing the pres­i­dent wants ev­ery­one to call “work­place vi­o­lence.”

In World War II the na­tion was united be­hind a pres­i­dent who led through his use of lan­guage, his fire­side chats, his un­equiv­o­cal nam­ing of the en­emy and his de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­feat them. Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s words were taken from the in­ven­tory of the na­tion’s arse­nal. Words mat­tered.

Of course, now we are in a dif­fer­ent kind of war and Barack Obama is a man of a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion. He came into of­fice in a time when po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness dic­tates pub­lic think­ing. He made eu­phemism his own and he made it cool, but he has not made the en­emy clear. Don­ald Trump scored a point with his ob­ser­va­tion that the pres­i­dent seemed to get an­grier talk­ing about him than in talk­ing about Omar Ma­teen, who went down shout­ing praise for Al­lah and ISIS. Mr. Obama’s eva­sion and eu­phemism gives Don­ald Trump his strong­est card. Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.


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