Obama's speech worthy of praise

Published on Friday, 22 August 2014 21:53 - Written by

President Barack Obama should be commended for his speech on Wednesday condemning the slaying of journalist James Foley. His words were forceful, pointed and direct.

“Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL,” Obama said, speaking about what’s now called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. “ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

There is something in Obama’s soul that has made him hesitant to call out other cultures. He has expressed “concern,” at times, but he’s set aside phrases like “the war on terrorism.” He has explained his reluctance:

“It is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations,” Obama said in 2009. “But that those organizations aren’t representative of a broader Arab community, Muslim community. You know, words matter in this situation because one of the ways we’re going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds.”

But as many of Obama’s opponents have pointed out, he seems to have overcompensated, failing to clearly portray groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas as terrorist organizations.

Perhaps that’s why his words on Wednesday were so refreshing. America is outraged at the images we’ve all seen of James Foley just before his death. And so is the president.

“They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior,” Obama said.

The president pointed out that the group’s actions give lie to any claim that it fights for Islam.

“{They have] rampaged across cities and villages — killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence,” he said on Wednesday. “They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims — both Sunni and Shia — by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.”

The president also sounded the right note on a response to the group’s atrocities.

“We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless,” he said. “When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done. And we act against ISIL, standing alongside others.”

He called on Middle East nations to voice “a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies.”

Will the president’s actions in coming days match his strong rhetoric? We’ll see. But for now, he should be praised for getting the words right, because that’s the first step.