Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

ISIS and ‘Domestic’ Terrorism

In reacting to terrorism, Obama cannot bring himself to say the words ‘radical Islam.’

By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

There are many threads to the horror in Orlando.

Most disturbing is the serial inability of the Obama administration — in this case as after the attacks at Fort Hood and in Boston and San Bernardino — even to name the culprits as radical Islamists. Major Hasan shouts “Allahu akbar!” and Omar Mateen calls 911 in mediis interfectis to boast of his ISIS affiliation — and yet the administration can still not utter the name of the catalyst of their attacks: radical Islam. It is hard to envision any clearer Islamist self-identification, other than name tags and uniforms. The Obama team seems to fear the unwelcome public responses to these repeated terrorist operations rather than seeing them as requisites for changing policies to prevent their recurrence.

On receiving news of the attack, Obama almost immediately called for greater tolerance for the LGBT community — as if American society, rather than jihadism and the cultural homophobia so characteristic of the Middle East, had fueled the attack; or as if Mateen had not phoned in his ISIS affiliation. Obama strained to find vocabulary equivalent to “workplace violence” and was reduced to suggesting that the Orlando club was a nexus for gay solidarity and thus a target of endemic LGBT hatred, a half- but only half-right summation. Why is Obama’s first reaction always to find perceived fault within American society rather than with radical Islamism, an ideology certainly at odds with all progressive notions of gay rights, feminism, and religious tolerance?

In Obama’s view, it appears, the problem was a dearth of the community-organizing spirit, not of anti-terrorist measures. And then he channeled the gun-control narrative — forgetting apparently that the Islamist security officer Mateen had passed the requisite background checks to get his guns (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?), and that the Boston massacre, the beheading in Oklahoma, and the stabbings at UC Merced had nothing to do with firearms, and that the strictest firearms legislation in the world did little to prevent Islamist terrorism in Belgium and France. Obama, both ideologically and temperamentally, apparently is not up to the task of putting the security of American citizens at a higher priority than his preconceived multicultural ideas of Middle Eastern “difference” and his domestic agendas. Or perhaps he believes, as do many, that there is no practicable way to prevent these sorts of radical-Islamist killers from murdering Americans. Banning knives, box-cutters, pressure cookers, ball-bearings, and all guns will not stop the Tsarnaevs and Mateens of the world, although holding accountable authorities who ignore warning signals about radical Islamists might.

The issue of immigration, as in the Boston and San Bernardino cases, again comes to the fore. Something has broken down in our once-successful formula of assimilation and integration. Immigrants still insist on seeking out the Great Satan, and yet on occasion — as in the case of the Mateens — they raise a certain type of second-generation young male who ignores the magnanimity of the United States — which is, after all, his native country. These young men see the West as deserving to be attacked rather than to be appreciated as a life raft for their parents. Certainly, Mateen, Hasan, the Tsarnaevs, and Syed Farook did not show much of a sense of gratitude on behalf of their refugee parents. Perhaps they had gleaned the wrong lessons from our own politically correct nonchalance toward those who traffic in jihadism and Islamism in the U.S. without worry over the consequences.

Easy entry into the U.S. is now perceived as a given by far too many foreign nationals, as if legality and screening have become socially oppressive. If we do not respect our own immigration laws (and thus ourselves), and the tradition of expecting guests to adhere to our traditions and customs, why should anyone else? One would not need to put a hold on immigration by religious criteria, but it might make sense to suspend for a while entry into the U.S. from Middle Eastern war zones — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen, for example — just as we are not eager to welcome in North Koreans or Iranians without careful background checks.

Finally, why do so-called “lone wolf” killers in Europe and the United States channel ISIS propaganda? Ignore for a moment politics, religion, and ideology and focus on human nature and the desire to ally oneself with perceived winners and to distance oneself from their antitheses. The surge in 2007–08 quieted Iraq only when the toll of jihadists in Anbar Province became such that those pondering on the sidelines had second thoughts about allying themselves with the Islamists, and instead kept their distance from the perceived stronger and deadlier tribe. What changed German or Italian public ideas about Hitler and Mussolini between 1939 and 1945 was not education and reflection, but the reality that their ideologies equated to defeat, humiliation, and personal hardship, not resonance with an ascendant creed.

We never have taken the ISIS “jayvees” seriously, and as with al-Qaeda in the 1990s, the perceived momentum of ISIS brings adherents out of the woodwork. Its successes in Syria and Iraq, its medieval violent propaganda, and its surrogate operations in the West all convey a sense of romance to a certain sort of disaffected second-generation Muslim Westerner. George W. Bush was caricatured for his refrain of “defeating them over there” to prevent them from coming over here, but he did not necessarily mean a series of literal conventional invasions as much as a warning that showing weakness and losing abroad fostered a cult of jihadist chauvinism in the Middle East that would empower wannabe terrorists living within the West. And he was right.

The remedy for a Boston, a San Bernardino, or an Orlando has long been to defeat and humiliate ISIS and its jihadist appendages, so that it would be seen as shameful — and lethal — rather than a source of pride to express solidarity with it — something apparently impossible during the tenure of the present commander-in-chief, who has an entirely different set of cultural and social priorities.

The president always sets the agenda, and for the last seven years, obsequious government officials and toady bureaucrats — from the Pentagon spokesmen who saw Fort Hood as “workplace violence,” to a NASA chief who declared that one of the agency’s three primary missions was Muslim outreach, to the director of national intelligence who dubbed the Muslim Brotherhood “largely secular,” to the top counterterrorism adviser who praised jihad as a “legitimate tenet of Islam,” to the homeland-security secretary who preferred to describe terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters” — have made the necessary careerist adjustments.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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