Sunday night the President outlined his approach to defeating ISIL. There was nothing new, he did not attempt to make it sound new. Mr. Obama summarized, “The strategy that we are using now—airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country—that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.”
The President called for narrow reforms related to visa screening and purchase of high-powered assault weapons. He can implement most of the visa reforms on his executive authority. Disallowing those on terrorist watch lists from purchasing weapons would require Congressional action. As the President has argued previously, he called again for Congressional action to update and re-authorize use of military force against a terrorist threat that has morphed. The absence of a new AUMF has important constitutional implications, but probably no near-term practical effect.
As the President challenged Congress to act in ways he cannot, Mr. Obama also challenged the American people. He said:
We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world?—?including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.
That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans—of every faith—to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.
My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity—that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.
Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional.
There are some — perhaps one-quarter of our nation — who are predisposed to be against anything President Obama supports. They are so personally offended by this President that they tend to embrace everything that is his opposite. I hope the President’s embrace of religious pluralism, human decency, and fundamental equality does not increase suspicion of these propositions.
I anticipate there will be more attacks — both self-generated and coordinated. I have long been surprised there have not been more. As previously outlined, I understand the threat to go well beyond ISIS. Given the fundamental nature of the threat any seemingly expedient solution is unlikely to work and may make things worse.
Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.
May our recent panic end. May our minds grow. May we assume a firmer habit than before.