23 Aug 2014

“Mustn’t Say That About ISIS!”

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Michael J. Boyle, an assistant professor of Political Science at LaSalle, in the New York Times, wags his finger, and sermonizes against describing beheadings and mass murder as “immoral” because that might lead to US actions which could trouble his conscience.

Boyle provides a perfect example of the kind of liberal double-think which insists that murderous foreign barbarians are always entitled to complete immunity from morality, the Geneva Convention and other international law, and the rules and customs of war, but any American responses must always be subjected to microscopic ethical analysis and found to be free from any and all contamination by self-interest, world-wide disapproval, collateral damage, or potential untoward consequences of any kind before they can be regarded as licit and be supported by the pure of heart. The enemy is always immune to judgement, but the United States is always in the position of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinner in the hands of an angry God.”

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has rightly provoked global condemnation of the insurgent group and its horrific tactics. Yet it has also led to a disturbing return of the moralistic language once used to describe Al Qaeda in the panicked days after the 9/11 attacks.

In an eerie echo of President George W. Bush’s description of the global war on terrorism as a campaign against “evildoers,” President Obama described ISIS as a “cancer” spreading across the Middle East that had “no place in the 21st century.” Secretary of State John Kerry condemned ISIS as the face of a “savage” and “valueless evil,” while Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, called the group “barbaric.”

There is no question that ISIS has committed thousands of grave human rights violations against civilians in Iraq and Syria, and that many of its most gruesome acts, like the execution of Mr. Foley, constitute war crimes. Anyone with a conscience is disgusted by their brutality toward not just Mr. Foley but the thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians whom they have killed, raped and even buried alive.

It is natural to want to condemn this organization and to do so in harsh language that fully expresses our revulsion over its tactics. Indeed, condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely “evil” is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs.

But if the “war on terror” has taught us anything, it is that such moralistic language can blind its users to consequences. Describing a group as “inexplicable” and “nihilistic,” as Mr. Kerry did, tends to obscure the group’s strategic aims and preclude further analysis. …

he Obama administration should be very careful about lapsing into language about “destroying” the cancer of ISIS without thinking through, and articulating publicly, exactly what that would mean. The strategic drift produced by this moralistic language is already noticeable, as an air campaign first designed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe has morphed into an effort to roll back, or even defeat, ISIS.

The Obama administration needs to ensure that the just revulsion over Mr. Foley’s murder and ISIS’ other abuses does not lead us down an unplanned path toward open-ended conflict. The language of good and evil may provide a comforting sense of moral clarity, but it rarely, if ever, produces good policy.

Read the whole blithering thing.

4 Feedbacks on "“Mustn’t Say That About ISIS!”"


They don’t get it and they never will. Unless it is finally their head being cut off they will remain ignorant.


You could make the analogy that we don’t hold donkeys to the same moral scrutiny as humans, although I’m not sure that’s what Mr. Boyle had in mind.

The Sanity Inspector

It was Jean-Francois Revel who observed that democracies were the only modern societies that blamed themselves for enemies wanting to destroy them.


It would seem that he is confusing public statements with private analysis.


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