The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is America's enemy, not Islam, President Obama stated in his national address Wednesday night laying out a plan to destroy the terrorist organization.
Obama joined American Muslim organizations and other writers insisting that to slaughter innocent people is to sacrifice a claim to what the Pew Research Center says is the world's fastest-growing religion. But polls indicate many Americans don't draw a distinction between Islam and terrorist groups like ISIL whose members claim to be faithful Muslims.
"Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not 'Islamic.' No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim," Obama said. "ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way."
Alan Noble, co-founder and managing editor of Christ and Pop Culture, explained that one way to beat the terrorists is to reject their claim on Islam. According to Noble, ISIL is trying to portray Americans as enemies of Islam to gain support from communities by telling them their faith is under attack.
"They depend on 'the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them,' but if these terrorists are seen as pariahs, heretics, they lose their appeal," he wrote.
Obama's speech, in Noble's eyes, was a step in that direction. The president, "as he and Bush before him have done numerous times," highlighted the anti-Islamic actions of ISIL in order "to shift the identity of Islam, globally, to validate the Islamic traditions, which can exist and flourish in a modern, multicultural world," Noble explained.
Others, however, believe that any attempt to draw a distinction between Islam and violence is dishonest.
Bill Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," appeared on "Charlie Rose" Tuesday, arguing that surveys of Muslims themselves show they condone violence against those who violate tenets of the faith. "To claim that this religion is like other religions is just naive and plain wrong," he said.
And Maher is not alone is his view of Islam. Pew Research Center reported Wednesday that its recent polling found 50 percent of Americans say Islam is "more likely to encourage violence among its followers, while 39 percent say it is not more likely to encourage violence. Opinion about whether Islam is more likely to to encourage violence has fluctuated over the years, but as recently as mid-July, the public was divided."
The way American media has covered ISIL's fighting in Syria and Iraq has helped linked Islam and violence, explained religion writer Jaweed Kaleem in The Huffington Post. Describing a recent interaction he had with a foreign journalist, Kaleem said members of the press in other countries are more likely to refer to ISIL as a "terrorist group" rather than label them as Islamic or their members Islamists.
By insisting upon a difference between Islam and ISIL's terrorist actions, Obama and others hope to protect the status of American Muslims. And whether or not their arguments are convincing, Noble said that their efforts should not be dismissed.
"The next time a politician frames Islam or describes Muslims as peaceful members of society, don't accuse them of just being 'politically correct,'" he wrote. "This rhetoric is not a sign of cowardliness. It is a sign that the war on terror is — at its core — public relations work."
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