Among Western leaders President Obama has arguably gone the furthest in distancing the terrorist atrocities committed by ISIS, from the values and beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims. “The terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims,” Obama said in an 18 February speech on counter-terrorism.
President Obama added: “They propagate the notion that America, and the West generally, is at war with Islam. That is how they recruit, that’s how they radicalize young people… It is a lie… We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
Obama’s comments mirror sentiments expressed this week in an article in the Telegraph by Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Prince Salman said: “Terrorism is not an ideology; we are not merely fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats. I use the term ‘theocrats’ as the current war is not against Islam… It is the ideology that must be combated and defeated. In the process, we can replace the term ‘war on terror’ and focus on the real threat, which is the rise of these evil fascist theocracies.”
Both Obama and Prince Salman go out of their way to demonstrate how ISIS represents the very opposite of what most Muslims stand for. By associating ISIS with Islam we are buying into their propaganda and giving them greater legitimacy.
By condemning them as “terrorists”, “criminals” and “fascist theocrats” we rob them of the opportunity to identify themselves with any religion or acceptable set of values.
As well as the hundreds of Muslim leaders around the world who have spoken out against ISIS, leaders across the region have affirmed that the war against ISIS is a war to protect Islam
Following the brutal killing of the Jordanian hostage, pilot Muath al-Kassasbeh, King Abdullah of Jordan said: “We are waging this war to protect our faith, our values and human principles, and our war for their sake will be relentless and will hit them in their own ground”.
King Hamad of Bahrain pledged to assist Jordan and told King Abdullah that he was “proud to provide all the help Jordan needed to combat terrorism and protect Islam” from ISIS.
In the wake of the attacks against the Charlie Hebdou Magazine offices in Paris, French President Hollande was also quick to affirm that the attacks had “nothing to do with Islam”.
Right-wing critics in America and the West have been quick to attack such comments by Obama and Hollande, claiming that these figures are hiding their heads in the sand when they try to state that Islam and terrorism aren’t linked. However, these people miss the point.
When Obama and Muslim leaders deny that ISIS represents Islam, this is not naivety; but part of a necessary ideological war to delegitimize these terrorists.
ISIS recruit frustrated young people by pretending to represent a purer form of Islam than the faith followed by the vast majority of other Muslims.
When Islamophobic right-wing commentators take ISIS at their word and assert that they are acting in the name of Islam, this is a gift to the terrorists. It not only legitimizes ISIS, but it also strengthens their case that the Western world is a godless Muslim-hating place that must be fought. ISIS hardly need their own propaganda campaign when they have the right-wing Western media to do it for them.
That is why these brave and wise comments by President Obama and Prince Salman and President Hollande must be welcomed.
When they state clearly that “we are not at war with Islam” and “Islam has nothing to do with terrorism”; they will find that they have a billion Muslims standing alongside them against the terrorists. That can only be a good thing.