President Barack Obama offered little in the way of new ideas to fight Islamic terrorism when he made his near-historic television address to the American people last night. It was not so much a speech of platitudes—though it was that to some extent—but it just seemed underwhelming and seemed to be received as such even from some of his admirers.
What would I have liked the president to say, you may ask.
Well, for a start, I would have liked him to refer to attackers like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino as, at least, being inspired by Islamists, radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, terrorism in the name of Islam, or some similar term or phrase and not simply as “terrorists.”
I think most rational people understand that terrorism in all its forms is a horrible scourge on civilized societies. But surely we need to be more specific in our terminology if we want to eradicate this particularly virulent form of terrorism, which seems to be the sort most often used against Western democracies in recent years.
But most importantly, I would also have liked President Obama to have been more forthright in identifying the source of the poisonous ideology that masquerades as religious teaching and which seems to be at the root of much of the inspiration for these attacks. That source—the very root of it, that is—is not as the president implies, ISIS, aka ISIL and Daesh. They are merely the most recent exporters and inspirers of the crimes committed in the name of the ideology.
Daesh did not invent or even significantly advance the ideology in any way. Its roots go back into eighteenth-century Saudi Arabia. There it germinated and took root and grew into a branch of Sunni Islam. Wahhabism is an especially orthodox and puritanical movement, which has flourished in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar as an extremist pseudo-Sunni movement, often referred to as Salafi. In more recent times, Wahhabism has spread to Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, including the multicultural Western democracies.
Pernicious ideologies are like noxious weeds, they must be rooted out—not just cut back or contained—or they will spring back, and grow even more virulent than before.
Do not be fooled into believing that only a tiny percentage of those professing to be Muslims practice some sort of Wahhabi-like fundamentalist Islam, which qualifies as Salafi. Tens of millions of Muslims are Islamic fundamentalist and the number seems to be increasing. They can be found in Arab states like the aforementioned Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and, increasingly, in Syria. They are also the tenacious Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are also in Russia, in North Africa and in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad.
Fortunately, only a few of these turn to terrorism to impose their religious views on the rest of us. But, until the ideology is discredited and made to be unacceptable in any form in the civilized world, if not entirely eradicated, we in the West will have to face an enemy like none who have threatened us before.
But let me be very clear: the threat is not from the overwhelming majority of the million or so Canadian Muslims who are our neighbours, friends and members of our families, for they are as peace-loving and fair-minded as any other Canadians. These “real” Muslims abhor the attacks by Islamist terrorists as much as I do, or as much as most readers do.
They are most often twice the victims of such terrorist acts: after being victimized directly—i.e., being killed—their fellow Muslims are further victimized by the backlash from an increasing number of non-Muslim Canadians. And there is no point telling them to go home, for Canada is their home and they are as stuck with their victimizers as the rest of us are.
We know who the enemy are and the real source of their twisted ideology. And so does President Obama—or so he should. So what I really wanted to hear from him is when he will lead the world against this threat in a fundamental way so as to stop it at the source.
A great start would be to sanction Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Daesh. Freeze their Western investments and bank accounts; stop buying their oil and selling them military hardware; restrict travel of their citizens to Western destinations; suspend landing rights for their airplanes; and list them officially as terrorist organizations along with any mosque, school or other organization that accepts financing from them. Then go in and clean out Daesh from Iraq and Syria. That would be a start.
They’d be some short-term pain no doubt. But we’d be better off and we’d have a safer world in the longer-term.
If only we had leaders with the will to do any of this, eh?