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Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Know Your Tropes For Exploiting Terrorism

On Sunday, President Obama gave us another dull, rote speech on terrorism in which he promised to stay the course on whatever it is he thinks he’s doing about ISIS. And then lectured us about our intolerance.

It was notable for only one thing: the presidential adoption of the Exactly What ISIS Wants trope.

You know the one. If someone doesn’t like any particular response to the latest terrorist attack, he’ll tell you that this response is “exactly what ISIS wants.” It has been dreadfully popular since last month’s attacks in Paris, and it is threatening to become 2015’s answer to 2001’s trope, “Or the Terrorists Win.”

You remember that one, right? In case you don’t, here’s a handy guide to help you know your tropes for the political exploitation of terrorism.

‘Or The Terrorists Win’
This is the claim that people should engage in some utterly ordinary activity — shopping, watching television, eating bacon, etc. — as an act of defiance against terrorism. Because if they don’t do it, “then the terrorists win.”


‘Exactly What ISIS Wants’
The bodies were barely cool in the Paris shootings when we were treated to lectures that “The West Is Giving ISIS Exactly What It Wants,” usually accompanied by very dubious projections of what ISIS wants, which just so happen to correspond to any policy proposed by someone on the American right.


‘Bin Laden Syndrome By Proxy’
In Bin Laden Syndrome by Proxy, you take someone else’s terrorist attack, fantasize what you think its causes and motives ought to be according to your world view, then advocate a response intended to address this pretended cause.

In Vicarious Terrorism, the terrorists’ real motives and agenda have some overlap with your own, and you succumb to the temptation to exaggerate the connection and use the attacks to promote your agenda. But in Bin Laden Syndrome by Proxy, the overlap is entirely a product of your own imagination, spurred by naked opportunism.

Probably the best example I have ever seen of Bin Laden Syndrome by Proxy is giving a speech after an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in which you tell the American people that gun control is now “a matter of national security” — which is exactly what Obama just did. Obviously, he did not start wanting to ban “assault weapons” because a couple of terrorists used them last week. He’s been advocating it all along as his standard response to domestic shootings by crazy people with no ideological motive at all. But these shootings haven’t mobilized the public to support gun control, so he repackaged his argument to connect it to an issue on which people do seem to want strong action.

Then again, maybe that’s not the very best example, because it’s hard to top “climate change caused the Paris attacks.”
‘Nothing To Do With Islam’
“This has nothing to do with Islam” is a standard description for anything bad done by a Muslim in the name of Islam, based on arguments offered by Islamic imams citing quotations from Islamic scripture.


‘The Religion Of Peace’
The Religion of Peace is the religion that did not motivate the San Bernardino shootings, the Paris attacks, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Fort Hood shootings, the beheading of hostages in Syria, the mass execution of policemen and soldiers in Iraq, the shooting schoolgirls in the head, and so on and on. It definitely didn’t motivate the 9/11 attacks, and that is why it is not even supposed to be mentioned at the Ground Zero museum.

Must be some other faith. Try the Presbyterians.


‘No True Muslim’
This is a variant on the No True Scotsman trope. In its original inspiration, this is a type of circular reasoning used by a Scotsman to endow his countryman with some particular, virtuous quality. When confronted with the counter-example of a Scot who fails to possess this virtue, he merely declares that the miscreant must be “no true Scotsman.”

In this case, the trope is used by a non-Muslim to disavow the association of Muslims with any negative qualities — particularly religiously motivated violence — by asserting that anyone who commits such violence must be No True Muslim.

Thus, when a British Muslim began stabbing people the London subway and declared, “This is for Syria,” an onlooker was recorded telling the attacker, in impeccable London slang, “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv!”

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