President Obama warns against "extremism." Former Vice President Dick Cheney declaims against "terrorists." But they hardly ever bark the essential word, the almost always absent critical adjective: Muslim. Almost all the terrorist and extremist violence in the world today is committed by Muslims—and in most instances, the victims are Muslims themselves. What’s afoot here is Muslim extremism—despite the fact that the great majority of Muslims aren’t radicals and condemn terrorism.
President Obama got somewhat more specific in his press appearance Thursday regarding the Christmas bombing attempt. He said that the United States was "at war against al Qaeda." Indeed, we are, and al Qaeda is surely the main Muslim terrorist organization we are fighting. But it is not the only one. Many of the Muslim terrorist groups around the world are their own bosses, particularly in Asia and also in the Middle East. Nonetheless, he still avoided the Muslim nature of the problem.
The omission of the word "Muslim" usually stems from political correctness, the desire not to offend. On most occasions, this gloss does no great harm and can be overlooked. But the failure to nail the problem squarely by name causes grave difficulties: It impedes the process of finding realistic solutions. Specifically, it leads Washington to think of American solutions to terrorism more so than Muslim ones. It puts the greatest onus on American resources and actions, on our values and our philosophies—rather than on the great majority of moderate Muslims, their values, their religion, their culture, their concrete actions, and their getting involved at the ground level in the mud and muck.