THE SPINE MAY 27, 2010
It's official now. You cannot use "Muslim extremism" or "Islamic terrorism." Not because the words don't describe a real phenomenon in the world. An ugly phenomenon. And, alas, an abundant phenomenon. But because the president doesn't like the thought. And he certainly doesn't like the religious adjective.
I myself don't mind calling Jewish extremists "Jewish extremists." In fact, calling them Jewish extremists neatly separates the very few from the very many. There are myriad Jewish types: nudniks, for example, of whom there are a lot, and chachomim, of whom there are far fewer, liberals, even radicals, and (now more than ever) conservatives and reactionaries, allrightniks, the pious, the doubters and real Jewish atheists . You can always sit down and argue. Someone might even leave the table in exasperation or, for that matter, in anger. But no one will leave the table vowing to kill you and your sons ... and then proceed to do it and to do it over many generations.
Of Jewish terrorists –I am ashamed to tell you because I wish the world were more equal—you can count them on your fingers. OK, I'm undercounting. I'll include the toes. Still. You see what I mean.
One more thing. A gang of Israelis uproots some Palestinian olive trees; Jews manifest their repulsion on the morrow. Of course, not all Jews, mind you. Many are indifferent, perhaps most. If a Palestinian house is being torn down, even though the tearing down may be quite legal, Jews try to shield it. And, when a Palestinian is shot or knifed and, worse yet, when two or three are, a gathering of Jews—sometimes small, sometimes large—will demonstrate on Rabin Square, just where the prime minister himself was slain by, yes, a Jewish terrorist. "May his name be blotted out," as we Jews say about such individuals.
Do I need to do the numbers of the killers and the killed, the murderers and the murdered, among the Muslims? And not just the blood between the Shi'a and the Sunni which is shed largely in Iraq and between whom there is sanguinary traffic daily. But aslo among the tribes and the sects (and within the tribes and the sects) in the other domains of Islam—Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan. And also where Islam is a minority. This omits the Christians who are murdered and the Hindus and the tiny, tiny number of Jews who inhabit Mumbai.
The decision of the Obama administration—which is to say the decision of President Obama—to change both the vocabulary and the vernacular of political discourse is desperate. It is peremptory, as well. Officials will strive to latch on to other words. "Violent extremism" is, after all, a deflated phrase, which may be exactly what the president wanted. It describes nothing. It evokes nothing. It is false.
Just as Obama's Muslim world is spurious and inauthentic. And, if it is not as I and others describe it, why are so many American soldiers and combat troops of our allies dying in the deserts and mountains of so ordinary a place?