The Obama Watch

Downplaying Jihadism

Obama’s tardy outrage over Boko Haram.

By 5.14.14

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President Obama’s aversion to any perceived “war on Islam” has consistently led his administration to downplay the problem of jihad. Its outrage over the abductions of hundreds of young women in Nigeria by the jihadist organization Boko Haram hasn’t changed that stance. The State Department is still reluctant to make mention of Boko Haram’s Islamic character. Under Hillary Clinton, the State Department hesitated to label the group even a terrorist organization, despite its long catalogue of terrorist acts.

This reticence came at a time when Obama officials had no problem accusing Christians of waging a “war on women” for merely resisting Obamacare’s free contraceptives mandate. Obama is willing to indulge war-on-women rhetoric for such imaginary offenses, but he doesn’t dare accuse Islam of waging a war on women for real ones.

The same administration fashionably worked up about the abductions in Nigeria has no qualms about supporting limits on criticism of Islam’s treatment of women. Professors on the Obama Left at Brandeis University recently put pressure on the school to withdraw honors from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam’s treatment of women. Ali’s criticisms were deemed at odds with the school’s “core values.” Had professors at Brandeis bothered to take her criticisms seriously, they wouldn’t today be so shocked at the abductions in Nigeria.

One would think Hillary Clinton, a self-appointed champion of feminism abroad, might value robust free speech on the subject of Islamic mistreatment of women. But it was clear from her eagerness to explain what happened in Benghazi in terms of an exercise of free speech that sensitivity to Islam trumps free speech as a value for her. Hillary’s regard for free speech on the subject of Islam is so low that she was willing to support imprisoning the maker of the “awful Internet video” she alleged was responsible for sparking the Benghazi attack.

This administration has spent a great deal of its time expressing “shock” at events it could have anticipated or averted had jihadism been taken seriously from the start. The lax security in Benghazi, for which Clinton is ultimately responsible, was a reflection of the administration’s rosy view of the Arab Spring and its general unwillingness to appear overly concerned about radical Islam. Its support for ousting Mubarak in Egypt was similarly inspired by an indulgent view of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, whose members Obama had ostentatiously invited to his famous Cairo speech re-setting relations with the Muslim world.

The tone of the Cairo speech was meant to leave the impression that radical Islam, while still a problem, was an increasingly marginal one, and that an administration willing to show the Islamic world more understanding would see it fade away over time. It is not hard to see how the reluctance to label jihadist groups as terrorist could grow out of that new emphasis. CIA director John Brennan has tried to define the problem of jihadism out of existence by stating that its proper meaning is “to purify oneself or one’s community.” Boko Haram, not meeting this definition, is apparently not a jihadist group in his eyes. By using such fanciful definitions, the Obama administration hoped to be able to claim greater progress in the Islamic world than actually exists.

Obama did touch upon women’s rights in his Cairo speech but very gingerly. He softened his remarks with some moral equivalence (“the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life…”) and rare traditionalism from him, saying that he disagreed with liberals who opposed Islamic head scarves and that “I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles.” He was eager to distance himself from those few liberals who criticized Islam, proclaiming that “We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.”

Despite his horror at the Nigerian abductions, Obama remains loath to highlight radical Islam’s abuse of women, preferring to describe groups like Boko Haram as non-descript violent extremists. Judging only by the vague statements coming out of the White House, most Americans wouldn’t know that the group has been targeting Christians or that it seeks to build a pure Islamic state.

“This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education — grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls,” said Michelle Obama. What motivated the act was left unclear. But the formal name of the group — the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad — makes it far less of a mystery.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.