Obama’s Less Orwellian Terrorism Speech

On the day before the Pearl Harbor anniversary (which he did not reference), President Obama admitted that “Our nation has been at war with terrorists since Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” including horrors that his Administration previously dismissed as workplace violence. While much of what he said seemed to deny the reality of war, the last fourth of the speech raises the key question of what Muslims owe the rest of the world in this time of war.

Predictably, the speech repeated Obama’s signature call for unity, while brandishing partisan daggers of gun and border control against Republicans. But on the San Bernardino terrorists themselves he was not as infuriating as he was the day before when he theorized in his weekly radio address, “It is entirely possible that these two attackers were radicalized to commit this act of terror. And if so, it would underscore a threat we’ve been focused on for years—the danger of people succumbing to violent extremist ideologies.” In his classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell reminded us of the perils of the passive voice—isn’t the important thing here who was doing the radicalizing and spreading “violent extremist ideologies”? But being on “the right side of history” absolves one of a lot of responsibility.

Obama is notorious for constantly insisting that the terrorists are really not Muslim. And while there may well be diplomatic reasons for such rhetoric, it has encouraged misunderstanding of the real issue among Americans. Obama’s defenders, such as William Saletan, insist there are good reasons for us to trust his distinctions. Obama contends that the overwhelming majority of Muslims disown the terrorists: “… an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. It’s a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse.” Would this “real problem” require a return to the Muslim Enlightenment of the 10th century brought on by Muslim philosophers such as Al-Farabi and Averroes? Is that all Obama is asking? For serious discussion of the profound differences between Islam and Christianity see the writings of Remi Brague and Robert Reilly. Presumably Obama means something less than such a counter-revolution.

As fuzzy as Obama is on the Muslim responsibility, and how it is to be encouraged, he is stern about American obligations: What Americans need to do is not to discriminate against Muslims—as though they have been subjected to post-9/11 San Bernardino-Chattanooga-Ft. Hood murders:

“[I]it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose.”

“My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.”

Here Obama’s obliviousness to the differences between Islam and Christianity proves a stumbling block. He would deny that Islam is a political religion that unites theological and political commands. What would Obama say about a former student of mine from Egypt, a seemingly cosmopolitan young man, who nonetheless agreed with the overwhelming majority of his countrymen that converts from Islam should be put to death? Americans today, with the founders, would reject any notion that such barbarity should be tolerated under the guise of freedom of religion. How can Americans be open to accepting Middle East refugees—not necessarily because there would be ISIS agents among them, but because they would find freedom of conscience and religious toleration alien notions and might thus be more vulnerable to the blandishments of those “violent extremist ideologies.”

Obama thus distorts what should be our guide here, George Washington’s famous letter to the Hebrew congregation at Newport.

We can be more than tolerant, Washington observed, because both American Christians and American Jews believe in equal natural rights—the political agreement on constitutional government precedes toleration. American Catholics were able to refute the Protestant charge of political infidelity (Popery) by their loyalty. Unfortunately, Muslim immigrants may struggle mightily to reject the “extremist ideology” promoted by some of their clergy and adherents.  (Here, it would be amusing, if it were not deadly serious, that Obama turns a blind eye toward Muslim views of homosexuality and the status of women.)

As Obama has stated of his frustrations as a President, it is not as easy as it looks: that applies to combating domestic terrorism as well.

Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He teaches in graduate programs in political science for Johns Hopkins University and for the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University. He has edited Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, co-edited The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, and co-authored and co-edited several other books on American politics and political thought. In addition, he has worked ten years in the federal government as a speechwriter and on policy issues, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was a special assistant to Chairman Clarence Thomas, and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

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  1. gabe says


    1) You have a stronger stomach than I as I can no longer bear to watch this clumsy, insincere, historical illiterate. and to think he commandeered the Sunday Night Football pre-game show – well both are comprised of mostly hot air.

    2) Speaking of Hot Air, here is a link to a story on the family of the San Bernadino terrorist that lends credence to your position.


    “Rafia Farook, the mother of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, is an active member of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a Muslim organization that promotes the establishment of a caliphate and has ties to a radical Pakistani political group called Jamaat-e-Islami.

    Farook’s affiliation with ICNA was revealed on Friday when MSNBC and other new outlets scoured the Farooks’ apartment in Redlands, Cal. An MSNBC reporter found a certificate of appreciation presented to Safia Farook last summer by ICNA’s sisters’ wing”

    Perhaps, you understate the case when you state that Islamists may “struggle mightily” to ward off extremist influence(s). In fact, they may well be a) propagating it or b) at least, welcoming it..

    3) Perhaps Obama and his fellow multiculturalists (every culture except those that are Judeo-Christian based) could learn something from the 19th century British Viceroy to India, who, when coming upon a traditional tribal funeral rite in which the widow (quite alive, BTW) was to also be burned on the funeral pyre prepared for the dead husband, confronted the locals and inquired as to the reason for this practice. The Viceroy was informed that “This is our custom…” – to which the Viceroy replied: “yes, I see, and you should know that it is OUR custom to hang those who kill innocent people.”

    How is that for multiculturalism?

  2. Ken Masugi says

    Gabe this President seems more interested in flattering his presumed world audience than educating his American one. He and Bush helped create Trump, who at least at times sounds like a patriotic American (albeit an unreflective one, to say the least).

    • gabe says


      1) He DOES have a worldwide audience – of course, favorable reception is provided only by the various “faculty lounge” commentators across the several continents.
      2) At least Bush (both for that matter) were prepared to fight not just recommend a “safe space” for Americans (which is what his speech amounts to: “Don’t worry, we will provide a nice safe space for all of you” Of course, this safe space will prove as effective as the underside of a school desk – but it is the thought that counts with the Obamaites!
      3) Now for some9one who gets it, Victor Davis Hanson in today’s NRO:


    • djf says

      “[T]his President seems more interested in flattering his presumed world audience than educating his American one.”

      Don’t kid yourself. This president is also flattering a large part of his American audience.

      • gabe says


        How right you are – remembering, of course, that we have an awful lot of (too many, to my mind) of faculty lounges in the good ole USA!!

          • djf says

            Unfortunately, Obama’s base extends far, far beyond “the higher education establishment.” Again, don’t kid yourself. His base is probably around 45% of the electorate. We’re not living in 1972, or even 1992, anymore.

            Incidentally, I never stated or implied that Obama’s base is “illegal immigrants.” Still, I’m sure that many thousands of illegal immigrants did vote for him, regardless of the law.

          • Ken Masugi says

            Sorry, didn’t mean to impute that view about illegals. Still, 45% seems high as a base, though I would also argue that higher education of this sort has become the lingua franca of political discourse. Note that his popularity does dip below that often enough. I think it’s kept high because his rhetoric includes (misleading) references to the Declaration and the founding..

  3. David Fruisk says

    DJF’s comment is insightful. Although 45 percent is indeed too high for Obama’s “base”
    (as Ken Masugi says), the Democrats can apparently count on at least that large a vote,
    and probably a bit more, regardless of how bad their president is. Indeed, it’s not 1972
    or even 1992 anymore. I would add: the fact that Obama’s popularity hasn’t gone nearly
    as low as it should probably has little connection with his cheap references to the Founding.

    • djf says

      I think if a party can count on receiving the votes of a certain percentage of the electorate in an election for a particular office, that percentage of the electorate is the party’s “base” for purposes of that election. At this point in our history, it seems that the Democratic “base” for purposes of presidential elections is about 45% of the electorate, so long as they nominate a candidate not widely perceived as nutty (Bernie Sanders) or threatening (Al Sharpton).

      The fluctuations in Obama’s popularity tell us nothing about the size of the Democratic base. For one thing, his popularity drops among committed leftists when they think he’s not moving the country to the left fast enough or perceive him to be making too many concessions to the opposition (such as fighting ISIS). Even for less ideological voters, an expression of temporary disappointment with Obama’s performance in office does not mean they will be receptive to a Republican in the next election. Indeed, it does not even mean they won’t “approve” of Obama in the next month’s poll.

      I sadly agree with David Frisk that Ken Masugi is dreaming if he thinks Obama keeps his popularity up by making meaningless references to the founding. He makes these references simply because some of his supporters still like to think of themselves as “patriots” in a content-free way that does not interfere with their support for Obama’s leftist agenda. These are the sort of people who buy thick popular biographies of the founders but shudder at the notion that the intentions of the people who ratified the constitution should constrain judges construing the constitution today. Obama’s disingenuous references to the founding are probably also intended to give the media a reason to applaud him for being a “uniter” and for “reaching out” to the opposition.

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