President Barack Obama’s advisers will remove religious terms such as “Islamic extremism” and “jihad” from the central document that outlines the United States’ national security strategy in an effort to change the conversation between the U.S. and the Muslim world, news sources reported Wednesday. The document currently states that “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.” Obama hopes the rewritten document will emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror.
While some Muslim leaders cheer the new White House tone, others remain hostile. According to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, “It is a good message of assurance, and differs from the former American administration’s position on this matter which showed no real understanding of Islamic countries. This decision by Obama will help to reform the image Muslims have of America.” On the other hand, other Muslim leaders remain unchanged. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently attacked President Obama for not having changed what he called America’s policy of hostility toward his country.
And of course, Obama’s foreign policy posture comes with political risk at home. According to former Bush adviser Peter Feaver, Obama runs the risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing to ignore his country’s national security concerns. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Feaver added.
While the Obama Administration’s actions may be based on good intentions, refraining from calling our enemy by its name will not transform U.S.-Muslim relations. Islamic extremists who attack the United States don’t do so because of our president’s rhetoric. Indeed, as Hayri Abaza notes in the spring 2010 issue of inFOCUS, “the Arab masses can be de-radicalized only if oppressive Arab regimes are prodded towards good governance and respect for of human rights.” Perhaps that should be the administration’s focus.