The limits of the ‘Islamic’ label

The limits of the ‘Islamic’ label

President Obama stands accused of political correctness for his unwillingness to accuse groups such as the Islamic State of “Islamic extremism,” choosing a more generic term, “violent extremism.” His critics say that you cannot fight an enemy you will not name. Even his supporters feel that his approach is too “professorial.”

But far from being a scholar concerned with describing the phenomenon accurately, the president is deliberately choosing not to emphasize the Islamic State’s religious dimension for political and strategic reasons. After all, what would be the practical consequence of describing the group, also known as ISIS, as Islamic? Would the West drop more bombs on it? Send in more soldiers to fight it? No, but it would make many Muslims feel that their religion had been unfairly maligned. And it would dishearten Muslim leaders who have continually denounced the Islamic State as a group that does not represent Islam.

But “the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” Graeme Wood writes in a much-discussed cover essayfor the Atlantic this month. Wood’s essay is an intelligent and detailed account of the ideology that animates the Islamic State. These are not secular people with rational goals, he argues; they really do believe in their religious ideology.

Continue reading →


Commenting Policy

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.

You may use HTML in your comments. Feel free to review the full list of allowed HTML here.