In his first trip to the Middle East as commander-in-chief, President Trump made it clear that he is not afraid to name the enemy.
Addressing dozens of leaders from across the Muslim world who had gathered in Saudi Arabia, the president defined the war against “Islamic extremism” as a battle between “good and evil.”
The media was quick to attack Trump’s wording, arguing that it differed from an earlier release of the transcript of his remarks.
Per CNN, following the president’s speech, “a senior White House official said Trump’s decision to say ‘Islamic extremism’ instead of ‘Islamist extremism’ as written in his prepared remarks was not intentional but the product of exhaustion brought on by the rigorous travel schedule.”
The Independent, a British online newspaper, released a report an hour after CNN, alleging that Trump dropped out of an event in Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening due to “exhaustion.”
Here we see the media launching two, dual attacks on President Trump.
First, they are seeking to sow seeds of doubts in the minds of his supporters by pushing a false narrative about the president abandoning his views on “radical Islamic terrorism,” which they are trying to accomplish by confusing people on the meaning of two slightly different terms.
Robert Spencer, an American author and blogger at JihadWatch.org, clarifies the distinction between “Islamist” and “Islamic.”
The term “Islamist” is in common use to refer to Muslim individuals and organizations that adhere to Islamic law’s political aspects (most notably its denial of any legitimacy of a separation between religion and the state) and consequently most fiercely oppose America, Israel and the West in general. The implication is that Islam itself, in its authentic form, has no requisite political aspect, and no incompatibility with Western values or democratic government.
The problem with this is that it is a Western, artificial distinction, imposed by non-Muslims upon the Islamic world and lacking any real substance with reference to Islamic law as it has always been formulated by the Sunni and Shi’ite madhahib (schools of jurisprudence). Islam has always been political, and the union of religion and the state has always been essential to its political program; the idea that all this can and should be separated from Islam proper is the wishful thinking of Western analysts who do not wish to face the implications of the fact that these ideas represent mainstream Islamic thinking.
Secondly, they are spreading a theory that President Trump was “exhausted” and, therefore, incapable of thinking clearly when enunciating the term. This theory is given more credence by the Independent article that was published shortly after the initial report by CNN.
According to USA Today, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump got very little sleep during the 12-hour, 20-minute overnight flight from Washington. The president and his retinue also landed to blistering 101-degree heat in Saudi Arabia.
Unable to find fault in his speech, it is amusing to watch the media try and attack the president over two letters and his energy level.
The media knows good and well that President Trump has remained consistent in his views of Islamic extremism. The New York Times can report all day that he is “softening” his tone, but the evidence fails to back it up.
Last year, during a campaign event in Estero, Fla., Trump ruffled some feathers on the Left when he criticized Hillary Clinton for her refusal to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“We cannot let this evil continue,” Trump warned the crowd in Estero. “Nor can we let the hateful ideology of radical Islam — its oppression of women, gays, children, and nonbelievers — be allowed to reside or spread within our country.”
“We will not defeat it with closed eyes or silent voices. Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country,” Trump added.
Trump has not shrunk from labeling Islamic radicals “terrorists,” despite pushback from his national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster.
This type of clear language is a break from past administrations; neither Bush nor Obama believed in linking Islam with acts of terrorism.
In February 2015, at a summit on violent extremism, Obama stated that ISIL “portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.”
“That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State,'” Obama explained. “And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.”
Obama went on to say “we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
Contrasting the stylistic variation in verbiage, PolitiFact notes that Obama’s wording “isn’t all that different from former President George W. Bush’s language following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and at the onset of the war in Afghanistan.”
“This great nation of many religions understands, our war is not against Islam, or against faith practiced by the Muslim people. Our war is a war against evil,” Bush said in January 2002.
And then, in 2005, Bush doubled down on his views.
“Some call this evil Islamic radicalism. Others militant jihadism. Still, others Islamo-fascism,” Bush said in a speech at a National Endowment for Democracy event.
“Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.”
That simple phrase — “whatever it’s called” — reveals a striking inability by our former presidents to understand the ideology of Islamic extremists. A dismal level of competence is evident by their joint refusal to name the enemy.
While on the campaign trail, Trump was adept at recognizing the shortcomings of our leaders. He ran on changing how we label acts of terrorism and was elected as a result of his hardline stance.
In the war against “radical Islamic terrorism,” expect President Trump to succeed where his predecessors failed. And the reason why is simple: he is not afraid to name the enemy.