Obama on terror and Islam

Editorial April 10, 2010

The ubiquitous ‘war on terror’ has been fought in various locales – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in airports in the UK and US.

Now it’s being fought on a new plane — language. One of the biggest clichés in the last American election was ‘Anything but Bush,’ and US President Barack Obama’s latest move, the revision of America’s National Security Strategy to remove terms like ‘Islamic radicalism’ from its Counter-Terrorism Centre’s document, is definitely anything but what the Bush doctrine prescribed.

Revisions include reversing the Bush administration’s delineation of the 21st century as ‘the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism’ and understanding jihad as a struggle against the self for God, not the singular definition of a religiously sanctioned blank cheque for unmitigated violence. The revisions represent a major ideological shift and a strategic conceptual blow to al Qaeda and similar organizations.

By disassociating ‘Islam’ from al Qaeda’s violent practices, the US is de-legitimizing its appeal to a higher moral purpose. In previously labeling al Qaeda and the Taliban as ‘Muslim’ organizations, the US (or any entity that labels it as such) essentially places itself in the same ideological framework al Qaeda seeks to advance, one that pits the US against Islam.

Removing Islam from the binary is akin to a philosophical drone strike against the justification for violence. Does this mean an end to racial and religious profiling? Probably not. And while some would suggest language has no meaning, especially considering regular drone attacks and the concomitant civilian death toll, the document is one generated by the executive for congress, and is often used by the US media in borrowing terms for reports. Inasmuch as the American media influence their public, the implications for such a shift are tremendous – average Americans might actually stop associating their fellow citizens (and the one billion plus Muslims worldwide) with terrorism at large.