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Why exactly do the Democrat candidates for President choke like they have a chicken bone in their throats when asked to say those words? John Dickerson asked Hillary Clinton during Saturday night’s debate whether she agreed with various Republican politicians, and for that matter French President Hollande, that we are at war with radical Islam. Her response was to stumble about and ultimately insist that we were not at war “with all of Islam.” This was distinctly off the point of the question and illustrated yet again the fetish with words that the left has any time race, culture, or ethnicity sneak into the conversation.
This is the topic that my co-host Todd Feinburg and I delve into in this week’s edition of the Harvard Lunch Club Political Podcast. The podcast is a spinoff of the Harvard Conservative Lunch club which we formed a few years ago. (And please don’t ask if we had our meetings in a phone booth – you are just dating yourself). We hope you’ll check it out.
Why would the Democrat candidates not be willing to say “radical Islam” or “radical Islamic terrorist?” I think it’s safe to say that if Hillary were to utter those words, she wouldn’t run the risk of frightening Muslim voters in the middle to flee over to the Republicans. I don’t even think that Muslims in the Democrat base are going to have their enthusiasm for Hillary (or any Democrat) mitigated by the use of those terms. There seems to be no appreciable downside to just simply acknowledging the religious connection of the terror threat to our society.
But still the words do not come out. Why?
I believe that the reason that this is so perplexing is because there is, in fact, no compelling political reason at play. There is no sensitively poised grievance group that would be placed at risk by more aggressive rhetoric from the Democrat candidates. The predilection runs deeper than any immediate political motivation of the day. Rather, the hesitancy to employ any phrase that combines an ethnic or, in this case, religious term (“Islam”) with a pejorative descriptor (“radical”) or threatening behavior (“terrorist”) is in fact instinctive and pre-verbal for liberals. Multiculturalism simply demands that the judgment of cultures – at least cultures that rise to the level of “oppressed” – is taboo.
When it comes to the savage ways of the Iroquois Indians or the genocidal behavior of Hutu warriors, the multicultural anthropologist becomes unscientific … becomes embarrassed. The possession of Black African slaves by White males may be roundly condemned as a crime which stands outside of the context of any age but the Lachine massacre by the Mohawks is equivocated away by excuses of social pressure. Moral censure of savages from any epoch in history is avoided almost in proportion to how plainly barbaric the group may have been.
Liberals don’t use phrases like “radical Islam” for the same reason that they don’t venture into a discussion of the dysfunctional nature of the family (or lack thereof) in wide swaths of the impoverished Black community in America: it is anathema to in any way generalize. Muslims are more likely to be terrorists, Blacks are more likely to be born out of wedlock, gays are more likely to abuse substances and commit suicide. Merely discussing these kinds of statistics – acknowledging that such statistics exist – makes liberals acutely uncomfortable. Wherever possible it is preferable to minimize these traits or to insist that they are void of moral significance.
Thus, outrage over the attempts by commentators like Ayaan Hirsi Ali to open up a dialogue on the failings of Islam – characterizing such attempts as “hate speech” – only remain pure so long as normative thinking of culture is itself beyond the pale.
But like the story of the emperor and the clothes, the fact is not that no one notices. Everyone notices. The fact is that everyone – or at least the liberals – are just mortified to say something.