WHY NAMING RADICAL ISLAM MATTERS

WHY NAMING RADICAL ISLAM MATTERS

It is a ritual that has become all too familiar.   A gunman claiming to act on behalf of Islam, or ISIS, or simply shouting “Allahu Akbar” murders numerous people.  President Obama condemns the atrocity as workplace violence, extremist violence, or even terrorism, but studiously avoids using the terms “radical Islamic terrorism” or “jihad.”   It then becomes a deeply partisan issue as conservative politicians and other commentators point this out, and argue that his failure to name radical Islamic terrorism for what it is reflects a fundamental failure of his policy for dealing with it.  If he cannot even name it, he will never defeat it.  Indeed, the whole matter has played out most sharply in the recent exchanges between Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton after the tragic shooting in Orlando.

But does it really matter?  Does this dispute identify a substantive issue, or is it useless wrangling over words or nothing more than a game of political ping-pong?

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The Hard Rock at the Heart of Global Conflict

The Hard Rock at the Heart of Global Conflict

At the heart of global conflict lie some basic, unyielding logical impossibilities, and this is the deepest reason the conflict is destined to continue for decades, probably centuries to come.  These logical impossibilities, moreover, concern issues of ultimate importance, which inevitably generate passionate interest on all sides.   Consider these examples.

Either God exists, or He does not.

Either God has revealed objective moral truth that we are obligated to follow, or He has not.

Only one of each of these two logically incompatible statements can be true, but one of each pair must be true.  But what is even more vital to grasp is the enormity of what hangs on which of these logically incompatible statements is true, and which is not.

Indeed, these logically incompatible claim represent the first great divide in global conflict, and it is a divide between all of us who believe God exists, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, or other theists, and all of those who believe God does not exist.  The existence of God is the most far reaching truth claim of all, as it bears on the origin and purpose of the entire world, not to mention the meaning of our individual lives. It is moreover, directly relevant to the second claim about moral truth, since most theists believe the nature and will of God define what is morally right and wrong and provide morality with a secure objective basis.  Whether or not God exists also determines what levels of happiness it is possible to achieve, whether there is life after death and we may rationally hope for the perfect satisfaction and fulfillment that eludes us in this life.

Pascal clearly saw what was at stake, and he wrote with existential urgency about the difference it makes whether God exists and there is life after death. Continue reading

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