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.