Rhetoric and Terrorism

An Associated Press story from April 7 suggests that the Obama Administration is changing official U.S. rhetoric in connection with Islamic nations and therefor, at least obliquely, in connection with terrorism.  Here are a couple paragraphs from the story that I borrowed from the MSNBC site (no author of the article given):

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

The officials described the changes on condition of anonymity because the document is still being written and is unlikely to be released for weeks, and the White House would not discuss it.

I’m just an English professor and a writer of such things as poetry,  so I don’t know much about foreign policy or about whether such documents as are being revised matter.

From the vantage point of teaching rhetoric, I’m interested in the alleged removal of “Islamic radicalism” from the documents’ main stage, as it were.  The move makes sense syllogistically, insofar as not all “Islamic radicals” are terrorists.  Of course, before we get to that logic, however, we need to acknowledge the difficulty of defining “Islamic radicalism.”  In all religions, one person’s “radicalism” may, legitimately, be another’s “mainstream.”

The sentence reflecting the alleged Bush doctrine, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century,” is too broad from a rhetorical standpoint and probably also from  historical and political standpoints.  There’s a strong whiff of propaganda here.  Also, there are probably lots of other ideological conflicts that qualify as crucial, and I imagine Muslims and those who study Islam would agree that Islam is so multifaceted in so many different categories (culture, nation, type of belief [Sunni, e.g.], and so on) that “militant Islamic radicalism” represents too broad a brush.

But, as noted, I’m no foreign-policy expert, and whether rewriting such documents matters is another thing I don’t know.

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