Muslim Outreach

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War on Terror.jpegThere’s plenty of commentary in the offing on Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya–here’s Klein’s early guide to it–but I want to call attention to just this exchange on President Bush’s War on Terror.

Q President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, “war on terror,” and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of —
THE PRESIDENT: I think that you’re making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.
And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it — and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.
But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

I’ve generally thought the Bush administration deserves credit for not turning its response to 9/11 into a Holy War against Muslims, and thus that the expression “war on terror”–meaningless as it strictly speaking is–was essential to that effort. Occasionally, someone in the administration would use a term like Islamic fascism or militant Islam, but for the most part any reference to the religion was avoided.
A close reading of this exchange shows Obama taking the Bush line. What the questioner is angling for is an answer that differentiates Al Qaeda and those who collaborate with it from militant Muslim organizations with other agendas, such as Lashkar-e Tayyiba, the Kashmir-liberationist group believed responsible for last year’s attacks in Mumbai, whose top leaders have been designated as terrorists by the U.N. Obama won’t go there. Even as he emphasizes extending the hand of friendship to the Muslim world, he promises to “hunt down” organizations “like al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it.” Where this leaves Hamas and Hezbollah remains to be seen.