We have no quarrel with what President Obama said in his Oval Office address Sunday night on the growing terror threat, here and abroad. Indeed, we agree with much of what he had to say; it’s what he left out that is worrisome.
The president was on point in describing the most recent murder of 14 innocent men and women in San Bernardino as “an act of terrorism”; calling for stricter gun laws and tougher screening procedures for foreigners who come to the U.S. without visas; emphasizing that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are exemplary citizens; and calling on the Muslim community itself to confront the extremists within the fold.
Obama also asserted that while “the threat of terrorism is real … we will overcome it.” But he didn’t describe how a U.S. policy that has had limited impact, at best, would improve the situation. Instead, he reiterated his argument against having our troops “drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq and Syria.” Perhaps it was the drama of his addressing the nation on a Sunday evening from the Oval Office that led to expectations of a new and more active approach to counter the growing concern over Islamic terrorism — a phrase the president continues to avoid — and its widening impact around the world.
But while the Obama address is not likely to calm fears at home, the response among would-be national leaders who are preying on feelings of vulnerability and frustration among the populace is even more disturbing. The racist rants of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner who now calls for banning Muslims from our shores, or, Marie Le Pen, the far-right French leader of the National Front, whose party took first place in national regional elections on Sunday, gives us a glimpse of the dark side to come if more reasonable solutions are not found.
As more individuals become suicide attackers in the name of Islam, making prevention by security agencies all the more difficult, Israelis must be reading U.S. headlines and muttering, “Welcome to my world.”
For more than two months Israelis have lived with almost daily “lone wolf” attacks by knife, car ramming or other forms of deadly assaults against Jews. Indeed, they have been the targets of wars, terror attacks, murderous intent and Jew-hatred from hostile neighbors since the State of Israel was declared. Yet Israel has managed to maintain a vital, vibrant democratic society while placing the highest priority on security for its citizens, a testament to their resilience and resolve.
There are no easy answers to the wave of Islamic terror, here or abroad. The killers must be stopped; the effort to transform a culture of destruction (including self-destruction) in the name of a great otherworldly cause requires offering the alternative of hope in the here-and-now — the new challenge for our time.