Bob Schwartz

Tag: Libya

Obama Speech: Is It ISIS, ISIL or IS, and What is a True Religion?

Obama ISIS Speech

This is not a comprehensive review of last night’s speech by President Obama about ISIS/ISIL/IS. But if you asked me to join the millions of reviewers, descriptors that come to mind are lukewarm, vague, uninspiring, insufficiently informative, tactical (the speech, not the plan), and blah-blah-blah.

Here is one paragraph that stuck out, because it reflects two issues that may not get enough attention:

And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

What Is the Name of This Enterprise That We Are at War Against?

Is it ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State? This is much more significant than whether the English transliteration of the name of the Egyptian President was Morsy, Morsi, or Mursi or the Libyan dictator was Gadhafi, Qaddafi, Kadafi, Gaddafi, or Gadafy. This is our new mortal enemy, and besides, all these IS names are in English.

Different nations and different news media have different approaches to this. The BBC, for example, has settled on Islamic State, apparently opting for whatever the organization chooses to call itself. What is totally strange about the “official” U.S. nomenclature is that at the highest levels, there is no consistency. The President prefers ISIL, while those in his cabinet regularly use ISIS.

One small matter about ISIL does deserve note. The full name is the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. I challenge many in the administration, and many in Congress, and many in the media, to explain—without Google or cheat sheet—what the Levant is. For five hundred years or so it has described the land of the eastern Mediterranean, now roughly comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and contiguous countries. The word comes from the French word for “rising”, as in the east where the sun rises. It isn’t much in use any more, outside of scholarly circles and, of course, in our latest war.

So please, President Obama, if you are gathering the support of dozens of nations and hundreds of millions of Americans, let’s all decide on what to call this organization that, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, we will pursue to the Gates of Hell.

What is a True Religion?

“No religion condones the killing of innocents,” the President said. Without going into historic and contemporary detail, this is patently false. I believe the President knows better, but he didn’t want to get into a deep discussion, and instead just wanted to make a rhetorical flourish. If he doesn’t know, there are thousands of histories he can read and scholars he can consult, or even easier, news reports from the past few weeks, months, and years he can read.

If, however, he really did mean it, he has disqualified the majority of world religions from being classified as such. Which, by the way, plenty of critics of religion would applaud.

The President doesn’t have to be the Teacher in Chief, the Scholar in Chief, the Explainer in Chief, etc. Being Communicator in Chief is enough of a job, but if he just wants to say stuff for effect, without regard to its making sense or being true, we’ve already had plenty of that in years past, from those less smart or thoughtful than you. We get enough nonsense from many in Congress. Speak as if some of us are actually thinking about what you say. Because some of us are.

The Day We Discovered the Gamers

It’s a cliché from a hundred movies: Right before the wedding, the father of the bride looks over at his daughter and discovers something: the little girl is all grown up. This isn’t the day she grew up; that has been going on all along, for years. This is just the day he learned that.

Sean Smith, the Libyan embassy officer killed yesterday along with Ambassador Chris Stevens and two others, was also a world-class online gamer. In the 400,000-member EV Online community, where his name was Vile Rat, he was known as perhaps the greatest of all space diplomats. Most did not know that was what he did in his other life.

The community responded immediately and in force. Members gave assurances that his family would be supported, including making sure that his children went to college. In the digital world, space stations were named in his honor.

Those two things may not make sense together to some, but it is fitting. There is an image, outdated if it was ever true, that digital gaming is filled with socially inept people, mostly men, suffering from some form of arrested development. To the contrary, just ask the digital gaming industry, which is reaping the rewards of one of the few truly healthy entertainment genres. Or ask the millions who are citizens of the communities, who are also grown-up, responsible men—and women—who live complete and complex non-digital lives.

Or ask the wife and young children of Sean Smith, who may or may not have understood the different way he was important as an online diplomat, esteemed member of that community, and friend to thousands who had never met him. As one member posted, it is a “stupid game” that stands in the shadow of Sean Smith’s real world contributions and passing. But the gaming itself and the community it fostered is not stupid.

This is the day we learned that.