What is in a Name?

Josh Mandel (R), Ohio’s Treasurer and “up and coming”  GOP star wanted to be the first to scream “radical Islamic terrorism” after the strange, confusing, and shocking events on Ohio State’s campus last Monday. Just hours after the attack Mandel tweeted that it was clearly an act of radical Islamic terrorism. His evidence? The name and demographic information of the deceased suspect. When later research indicated that the suspect may have posted a note that explained his actions as being in support of Islamic terrorism and against the United States, Mandel proudly puffed his chest out. See, I was right to jump to a conclusion based on nothing but name and nationality! Why won’t liberals and the press call this what it is???!!!

This is the fundamental disconnect between liberals and conservatives on terrorism. As a liberal, I cannot fathom how rushing to judgment during a crisis (for full disclosure, I was on campus when this attack took place and no one here knew anything about what was happening, who did it, or why it may have occurred until nearly a day later) is helpful behavior from a public official. It does not calm the hysteria. It does not soothe the victims. It does not punish the perpetrators. It does nothing but score cheap political points (with people who already agree with you) while running the risk of being inaccurate, inflaming tensions, causing reactionary violence, and whipping people into a bloodthirsty frenzy (without having any tangible target to send them after). Nor can I see how making assumptions based on race, religion, and national origin is anything but discriminatory. If making these assumptions and labeling them strongly is important, it must be because you intend to act on them. Detaining or harming someone because you think they might be both Muslim and a terrorist is unconstitutional and at odds with Christian morality.

Don’t worry, Mandel spokesman Chris Berry tells us. Mandel didn’t come to this conclusion half-hazardly:

Treasurer Mandel’s training and instincts from the Marine Corps, the intelligence community and two tours in Iraq told him that this attack was radical Islamic terrorism. This fact was unfortunately confirmed as we learned of the attacker warning us Americans ‘in the name of Allah’ about his belief that Al Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki is a ‘hero’ and that he’s willing to ‘use a billion infidels in retribution.’

While some in the media and the far left stick their heads in the sand in refusal to recognize this blaring pattern, Treasurer Mandel and most Americans see it for what it is, radical Islamic terror.

Wow. Treasurer Mandel is capable of spotting Islamic terrorism by simply hearing an Islamic person committed a violent crime over tv or social media. The Marnie Corps has some real top-notch training.

The second part of this statement is truly troubling. Josh Mandel and the GOP constantly say that we MUST call these attacks what they are– radical Islamic terrorism. Liberals have their “heads in the sand.” Why can’t they say it? Left unsaid is why it is important to name them that specifically. History suggests why people like Mandel demand we use such phrases. It also shows us how short-sighted and dangerous such thinking can be.


This US Army propaganda poster encourages young men to enlist in the Army in order to defend America from the threat of barbaric German militarism. The bloody club carried by the mad German ape is labeled “kultur,” meant to imply that the savage and militaristic culture of Germany was being used to bloody and destroy Western Civilization.

I finished a book about WWI last night– that I find such an atrocity appropriate bedtime reading says a lot about me– right after reading an article about Mandel’s buffoonery in the Columbus Dispatch.

Anyone who has taken a class with me knows how important I think this moment in time was. It is the culmination of the Age of “Discovery,” Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and European imperialism. Out with the Pax Britannia. In with the American Century. It was transformational to war, politics, borders, nations, literature, art– hell, the whole human experience. Nothing has been the same since the guns of Europe first roared in August of 1914.

The Great War offers us many lessons on the dangers of modern life. In this case the use of propaganda, branding your enemy, and pitching a conflict as a life or death struggle for your civilization (as though such a thing truly exists!).

You hear Mandel say “Radical Islam spreads like a disease against our freedoms & Judeo-Christian values.” I hear the echoes of the past. Germany wasn’t just a threat to British naval supremacy or an impediment to French claims in Alsace-Lorraine or Africa. They were a threat to liberal democracy (unlike the autocratic Romanov regime they were allied with). They showed no concern for borders or neutrality (unlike the British and French empires, who definitely didn’t spend the 19th and 20th centuries conquering other nations and incorporating them into their realm)– my god, what barbarians! Controlling and oppressive German (or Prussian) militarism was out to crush and subjugate free and open Western society. It was important to the leaders of Great Britain, France, and the United States to call Germany what it was: an autocratic, militaristic aggressor. And a grave threat to Western civilization.

This marketing blitz had a clear purpose. To motivate the nation to sacrifice (and die) fighting the Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, and Ottoman empires (or the French, British, or Russians). The truth would not have sufficed. We are fighting because our diplomatic system combined with our war plans made it impossible to avoid a fight that practically no one wanted. Telling them that we were basically committed to this when the Tsar backed the Bosnians and the Kaiser gave the Austrians a blank check seems unlikely to have generated much support. And it worked. People enthusiastically marched off to war in 1914. While enthusiasm lagged, nearly disintegrating in the late stages of the war, people kept slogging through. Soldiers, sailors, and citizens alike kept going on. Partially, they had little choice. Each state, including the democracies, cracked down hard on dissent and noncompliance. But the stakes also felt extremely high. For all the combatants, there could be no peace without victory.

This had clear and direct negative consequences. For one, it made it difficult for either side to compromise. It compelled the British and French to hold on after the collapse of the Russians and peace in the east. It kept the Germans from freeing Belgium and returning to 1914 boundaries and instead throwing everything in on Ludendorff’s final roll of the dice, the “St Michael” offensive. More than anything, it made a reasonable peace impossible. How could David Lloyd George or Georges Clémenceau do anything but impose a punitive peace on the defeated Germans? They were villains and a threat to Western civilization, after all.

Historians still debate the Treaty of Versailles– whether it was too soft or too harsh on Germany. I’ve always found this absurd. A harsh peace would have been completely destroying Germany. You really couldn’t be harsher than they were without wiping Germany off the face of the planet. Balkanizing Germany wasn’t an option with the specter of Communism hanging over Western Europe. Of course, it was way too harsh. Unfortunately, Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau didn’t understand how interconnected the new, modern world was. They thought they could deal out their punishment, hold Germany at an arm’s length in the new world order, and still keep them as a productive, peaceful, subordinated member of that order. It wouldn’t have worked under Metternich and it sure as hell wasn’t going to work under Wilson.

That brings us back to Mandel and the GOP. I’m sure it feels good to scream “RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM” all the time. You get to feel like you are doing something. See, we are fighting it! But you are not accomplishing anything. All you are doing is riling people up, suggesting they treat all people they suspect of being Muslims as possible (probable?) terrorists, and sending them off into the world. You are making it difficult to make alliances with others in the Islamic world. And when the time comes, you are making it impossible for Americans to move forward in peace with Muslims the world over.

The world we live in requires interaction and trust. It isn’t negotiable. Moving forward past the age of Islamic terrorism demands that we be able to see one another as people and not as evil cartoon characters. Attributing acts of violence to “radical Islamic terrorists” without knowing anything about an event isn’t real talk or calling it what it is. It is lazy hate mongering and propaganda. It does nothing positive for our efforts and makes peace damn near impossible. I don’t know where Mandel learned that, but I doubt it was the Marnie Corps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s