Obama Must Call Islamic Terror by Its Real Name

President Obama Meets Nat'l Security And Public Health Officals On Response To Ebola
US President Barack Obama meets with his national security and public health teams in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, November 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama received an update on the ongoing Ebola response. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images) (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Over the years I’ve learned from personal experience that religions–mine, for example, Judaism–can be twisted and hijacked in the name of carrying out violent acts. In such cases, I believe no solution can be found without naming the religion being hijacked.

That is why I’m convinced that President Obama’s refusal to identify the terrorism in Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere as being connected to Islam is counterproductive to his goal of fighting it – and thus is additionally damaging to the overwhelming majority of Muslims who do not endorse such atrocities.

On some level I agree with President Obama. I agree in that I abhor broadcasting a blanket sentiment that “Muslim equals terrorist,” as it is not only patently false, it does nothing but add fuel to the fire. I wish for people of all faiths to live side by side, in peace and mutual respect. We must denounce prejudice against Muslims the world over.

I disagree, however, that any reference to Islam should be removed when naming acts of terror carried out by violent Islamists, who wish to impose their brand of Islam on others.

It is not Islam that is responsible for violence and terrorism; it is violent Islamists who are responsible. But while it is the violent Islamists who are perpetrating the terror, we can’t get away from the fact that those fundamentalists act in the name of Islam.

Indeed, only a small percentage of Muslims are extremists, ready to perpetrate heinous acts of terrorism. These are the people who flew planes into the Twin Towers, killed and maimed at the Boston Marathon, and murdered at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher in Paris.

Forming a larger group are facilitators. These are the funders of terror – some known, some unknown.

Still larger is the group of sympathizers. They don’t perpetrate or facilitate, but they sympathize with these horrific acts.

And yet, the vast number of Muslims abhor these actions. They are appalled that their faith has been so deeply distorted.

President Obama must do his share: call out “Islamist terrorists” – and encourage the larger Muslim community to assume responsibility by condemning terror perpetrated in the name of Allah.

So what is to be done when the beliefs of so many are corrupted by so few? I say it is critical that the great many, the mainstream Muslim community, voice clear and loud protests condemning the violence of the extremist minority. That’s why President Obama should not shy away from using the word “Muslim” when referring to violent Islamists. It’s essential to demand Muslim outrage and protest against the terrorists acting on a skewed interpretation of Islam.

Now, I realize that what I’m asking for is difficult: it’s painful to criticize one’s own “family.” But for me, the test of a true spiritual activist is one who is prepared, when necessary, to criticize his or her own people, one’s own group, in one’s own setting, venue, and language.

I know this from my own experience. Even as one who has for years been on the political right of Israeli politics, I was inclined to dismiss some right-wing extremists–like the murderer of many Arabs at the Cave of Machpelah, or the assassin of Prime Minister Rabin–as being so off-course that they were not part of my Jewish “family.” In other words, that they didn’t speak for me meant they weren’t part of me, part of my Jewishness.

In time I was forced to understand that I couldn’t so easily wash my hands of such extremists – their actions in the name of Judaism was a Jewish problem. And so I had to assume responsibility: I had to raise a voice of Jewish conscience, of moral conscience. I condemned these violent Jews, these members of my faith, in the strongest possible terms.

I urge all Muslims to do the same against Muslims who engage in violence. All upstanding, loving, kindly Muslims – in your newspapers, your streets, your schools, your places of work and places of worship – stand up and denounce all atrocities made in the name of Islam. Let the recent “peace ring” formed by Muslims around the central Oslo synagogue serve as an example for others to emulate.

President Obama must also do his share: call out “Islamist terrorists” – and encourage the larger Muslim community to assume responsibility by condemning terror perpetrated in the name of Allah.

Rabbi Avi Weiss is senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale – the Bayit. His most recent book, Open Up the Iron Door: Memoirs of a Soviet Jewry Activist is being published by Toby Press this spring. Obama Must Call Islamic Terror by Its Real Name