Reuel Gerecht, in a Washington Post op-ed that jumps off from the Juan Williams controversy, asks if President Obama should be asking the question -- to borrow a phrase from Gerecht's mentor, Bernard Lewis -- what went wrong with Islam? Gerecht argues that, by making the struggle about terrorism ostentatiously not about Islam, we do a disservice to our cause, and to the cause of Islamic reformers. I actually find Obama's ratcheting-down of the rhetoric refreshing and possibly useful, but Gerecht makes an interesting counter-argument:
Does How do you approach the problem of Islamic militancy in the West and in the Middle East? President Obama, who has had innumerable briefings on the threats posed by al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups, has chosen to dial down American rhetoric (it was actually pretty tame under President George W. Bush) in the hope that average Muslims, wherever they may be, will view the United States as more friend than foe, and help Washington combat "violent extremism."
This friendly approach is probably, unfortunately, counterproductive. So far, it's unlikely that Muslim self-criticism -- our ultimate salvation from Islamic holy warriors -- has improved under Obama. Judging by the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, a vibrant hodgepodge of all things Arab, the opposite current, fed by Western self-doubt, appears to be gaining force. By being nice, we suggest that nothing within "Islam" -- by which I mean the 1,400-year-old evolving marriage of faith, culture and politics -- is terribly wrong. By being kind, we fail to provoke controversy among Muslims about why so many Muslims from so many lands have called suicide bombers against Western targets "martyrs" and not monsters.
Gerecht's argument would be more compelling if he could offer other, non-al-Jazeera-based proof. Reuel?
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