How Uninformed U.S. Politicians Help ISIS

Radical groups like the Rebel Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan consider Christianity as a purely-white religion, but few politicians would say they represent the heart of the faith. Many Republicans, however, often use rhetoric suggesting that ISIS and its interpretation of Islam is at the heart of Muslims' beliefs. Such language plays into the hands of militants who want a conflict with the West and alienate conservative Muslims. Ty Cacek/Redux

The world has to confront an increasingly intractable problem: the growing threat from radical Christian terrorists who have slaughtered thousands of innocents. There's the loose affiliation of terror groups tied to the Christian Identity movement, as well as the Orange Volunteers, the Army of God, the Phineas Priesthood and many, many others. And those are just the homegrown organizations—Christianity has inspired violent groups overseas that murder and behead people, and rape and kill young children. The Lord's Resistance Army, a radical fundamentalist Christian group, has committed thousands of murders and kidnappings in the name of Jesus. There's also the Church of Almighty God in China, the National Liberation Front of Tripura in India and other Christian terrorist organizations around the globe.

On top of those are the "lone wolf" terrorists inspired by Scripture filled with calls for violence, including murdering nonbelievers and those who don't honor the Sabbath, slicing open the bellies of pregnant women and celebrating the bashing of babies to death on rocks. There's Eric Rudolph, Shelley Shannon, Paul Jennings Hill—all murderers for Christ. Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Norway, proclaiming he was seeking to create a "monocultural Christian Europe."

Christians often deny that these acts of terrorism have anything to do with Christianity and state that theirs is a religion of peace, but they fail to strongly condemn the violent actions. Plenty refuse to even denounce the murder of doctors who provide health care services that the devout oppose. And the greatest financial support for the radical Catholic terrorists in the Irish Republican Army came from American Christians. Despite the IRA's murder of 1,800 people, American politicians proved they were soft on terrorism. Representative Peter King of New York even went to Ireland and hung out with the group's sympathizers. Fortunately, the British were tough and used enhanced interrogation techniques—including waterboarding—on these radicals.

Offended by what you've just read? Good. You're supposed to be. That diatribe, while all true, is horrific. Sadistic lunatics, whether as individuals or groups, have nothing to do with Christianity. They have just appropriated a peaceful religion to justify their murderous impulses.

Don't think, though, that this is about to become a false equivalence of the terrorism undertaken by self-identified Christians and Muslims. Sunni extremists accounted for 70 percent of all terrorist killings in 2011, or 8,886 people, according to the most recent unclassified report by the government's National Counterterrorism Center; the number of Christian terrorists is so small that the NCC does not give it an individual category, although this was the year of the Breivik massacre. For Muslims, though, the most important number is how many devotees of Islam who do not commit terrorist acts themselves are inclined to support the religious teachings of those who do. In Europe alone, according to Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, 1 percent of all Muslims are at risk of becoming radicals because they sympathize with the fundamentalist teachings that preach violence. That percentage may seem low, but given that Islam has about 1.6 billion adherents, the number of Muslims open to violence is far too high. Based on Rabasa's analysis, more than 300,000 Muslims in Europe could be radicalized, a dangerously large group of nonviolent people who could be pushed over the edge toward terrorist acts.

So the point of the "Christian terrorists" rant is to prove a point about national security imperatives in the face of violent attacks by some Muslim sects and the abject ignorance of some prominent Republicans who insist that, by avoiding the phrase "radical Islamic terrorists," the Obama administration is soft on ISIS, Al Qaeda and others. This GOP demand for its own form of political correctness feeds into what the Islamic murderers want, intelligence experts say, because it helps them portray the Western fight against terrorist groups as a war on Muslims. In fact, with the endless parsing of language about terrorism—such as criticizing Obama for calling the Benghazi attack an "act of terror" rather than "a terrorist act" (or was it the other way around?)—the GOP PC police have shown themselves willing to undermine America's fight against psychopathic monsters to score political points with the uninformed.

Take a moment to reflect. If the harangue above about Christian terror were repeated again and again—on television, in daily encounters, even by the president—how many of those inclined to violence would feel their religion was under attack? That is the challenge the world faces in dealing with the rise of radicalism among some practitioners of Islam. The goal is to decrease the appeal to Muslims of radical interpretations of Islam, not to reinforce the message of terror groups. Equating all of Islam with terrorism, insulting the religion and Muhammad, burning Korans—each act of disrespect, particularly by politicians, brings smiles to ISIS leaders. Yes, they are offended, but they know they have been given another gift—like the invasion of Iraq—that helps recruit more fighters. "There has never been a group as adept at using our own words against us for propaganda purposes" as ISIS, says one former senior official with American intelligence. "Every time some person in authority insults their religion, they can inspire Muslims in tune with the radical message to start planning an attack."

In fact, sloppy language to describe these terrorists—particularly the words Republican nincompoops are demanding Obama use—can reinforce the idea among nonviolent fundamentalists that joining the fight being waged by ISIS and other terrorists is a noble cause. "Language and terminology matter,'' says a 2013 report from the Qatar International Academy of Security Studies, a consulting organization used by governments and private industry. "It is import to refrain from using terms such as 'radical' or 'jihad,' as the words may traditionally have positive connotations."

That is why Obama and George W. Bush carefully chose their words when discussing terrorism perpetrated by Muslims, avoiding statements that might be perceived as insults. "We are not at war with Islam,'' Obama said in February at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. "We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."

Bush said much the same. "This great nation of many religions understands, our war is not against Islam, or against faith practiced by the Muslim people,'' he said in 2002. "Our war is a war against evil."

This intelligent approach when speaking about terrorism is now more essential than ever. The media tactics of ISIS—whose top ranks include many former Baath Party members who were senior officials under the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein—have created an unprecedented need for linguistic care by American politicians. This organization has established an astonishing presence on social media, reaching millions with the argument that America and its allies are attacking Islam and only those who support them are true Muslim. "The media effort of the Islamic State is an integral and essential part of its operations, on a par with its military and administrative effort," wrote Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer and head of the United Nations monitoring team concerning Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in a 2014 report for the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm. "In this respect it is greatly helped by the decentralized nature of social media (particularly Twitter), which has allowed each of its supporters effectively to create and operate his/her own ministry of information, echoing a standard party line as well as creating and spreading their own memes and messages. In effect, the Islamic State is crowdsourcing its propaganda. There is no precedent for this.''

Thus, every time some politician—out of ignorance or cynicism—directly links Islam to terrorism or unknowingly ties radicalism to glory or jihad to martyrdom, ISIS and their ilk have more evidence to win converts. And unfortunately, a lot of the simpletons helping terrorists gain more supporters are candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, meaning much of their destructive blathering receives dissemination over national television.

"This president seems to bend over backwards to want to avoid saying that. He won't even say the words 'radical Islamic terrorism,'" said Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. "He's always afraid of offending everybody rather than doing his job."

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another GOP presidential candidate, has demonstrated a fairly keen understanding of the intricacies of dealing with global terrorism, but too often he joins in with his braying co-contenders. "I've never been more worried about my country than I am today in terms of radical Islam," Graham said on ABC's This Week. "And yes, it is radical Islam."

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas did the same, proclaiming that Obama is "an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists," blasting the administration's rhetoric and approach to ISIS.

And it is not just those in the presidential ring mouthing this foolishness. Indiana Governor Mike Pence—perhaps the only Republican politician not running for president—joined in on this hallelujah chorus of foolishness, slamming Obama for being "unwilling to call Islamic extremism what it is."

And so politicians kowtow by mouthing the platitudes the arrogant but ignorant want to hear. And somewhere in the world, maybe in your hometown, a previously non-violent fundamentalist Muslim will feel the call to join the fight.