Sometimes we overlook the obvious. For weeks now, pundits and politicians have been raging over President Obama’s insistence that America is fighting “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam.” Rudy Giuliani calls the president’s refusal to utter the ‘I’ word “cowardice.” The president’s backers defend it as a savvy refusal to give ISIS the religious war it desperately wants. But, for the most part, both sides agree that when Obama says “violent extremists” he actually means “violent Muslim extremists.” After all, my Atlantic colleague David Frum argues, “The Obama people, not being idiots, understand very well that international terrorism possesses an overwhelmingly Muslim character.”
But what if they don’t? What if Obama is using the term “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam” not only because he doesn’t want to offend moderate Muslims, but because he’s also worried about violent extremists who aren’t Muslim? It sounds crazy, but it shouldn’t.
In his Wednesday speech to the Summit on Countering (you guessed it) Violent Extremism, Obama listed a series of terrorist attacks in the United States over the last two decades. Of the six he mentioned, only three (9/11, the 2009 murders at Fort Hood, and the Boston Marathon bombing) were committed by Muslims. The other three (the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and the 2014 shooting at a Kansas City-area Jewish Community Center) were not.