— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
"Giving an Appearance of Solidity to Pure Wind" (New Oxford Review, January-February 2016):
Back in 1948 British novelist George Orwell penned his seminal work Nineteen Eighty-Four. Even those who haven’t read the novel will recognize Big Brother, the heavily mustachioed, Stalin-like icon who represents the ubiquitous surveillance state. But to say that the central purpose of Orwell’s work was to warn against National Security Agency-style tactics or an oppressive society under a totalitarian government is to fail to fully convey Orwell’s message. Yes, Orwell opposed all forms of tyranny, but he was more concerned with how ideologies proliferate. One of his most important insights was the role language plays in shaping our thoughts and opinions. The term Orwellian does not mean anti-authoritarian. Neither does it refer to mass surveillance by an intrusive government. Properly used, Orwellian means the deceptive and manipulative use of language.
In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) Orwell observed that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In other words, certain political language (propaganda) uses words and phrases to hide ugly truths. He foresaw how politicians would misstate and mislead in order to stay in power, using words to distort more than to inform, not to convey meaning but to undermine it.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell called this newspeak. And because words have the power to shape thought, newspeak is a powerful tool in the hands of a propagandist. Big Brother’s newspeak narrows citizens’ range of thought, making it difficult for them to express, or even to consider, unorthodox ideas that do not align with the state’s goals — in effect, preventing any kind of logical thinking. Taken to an extreme, the language of newspeak encourages something called doublethink, a hypnotic state of cognitive dissonance in which one is compelled to disregard one’s own perception in favor of the officially dictated narrative. In other words, people accept a distorted reality rather than reality itself and swallow the state’s distorted propositions and claims instead of considering the “ugly truths” of reality.
One ugly truth important to everyone today can be stated quite simply: Some Muslims, inspired by Islam and in the name of their religion and the prophet Muhammad, are orchestrating and executing acts of terrorism that seek to wreak devastation on those who do not submit to Islamic values. During the Obama administration, Americans have been deluged with Orwellian newspeak through the use of euphemisms that serve to sanitize ugly truths related to Islamic terrorism. In classic newspeak fashion, even the word terrorism seems to have been eliminated from official language. Janet Napolitano, Obama’s former chief of Homeland Security, preferred the term man-caused disasters because, she said, “it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear.” So, terrorism is no longer a problem; violent extremism is. And the global war on terror, after first morphing into overseas contingency operations, is now simply referred to as CVE, short for countering violent extremism. The purpose of this Orwellian newspeak is to eschew all references to Islamic extremism, jihad, Islamic radicalism, and other such overt terms that make it difficult to deny that there’s a link between Islam and terrorism.
The White House refuses to acknowledge the religious/ideological threat posed by Islam. It does not want any reference to the true motivation of these attacks: terror against the “infidel” (non-Muslims and Muslim-born unbelievers) carried out in the name of Islam as part of a global jihadi movement. In fact, shootings by radical Muslims are sometimes dismissed as “workplace violence.” President Obama, for example, failed to mention that Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who slaughtered thirteen of his fellow soldiers at the Fort Hood military base in Texas in 2009, had been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based imam and senior recruiter for al-Qaeda. And when the first reports emerged of a terrorist attack carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, this December, President Obama, backed by a mainstream media adhering to Muslim-related newspeak, attempted to dismiss the shootings that killed fourteen and wounded two dozen others at a Christmas party as another instance of “workplace violence.”
Using the technique of distraction and denial, Obama ignored the obvious connection to radical Islam in the latter case. Instead, he renewed his call for gun control, treating the terrorist attack as if it were another gangland drive-by. Americans were supposed to believe that it was not a carefully planned terrorist attack, that because a co-worker allegedly made fun of Farook’s Islamic-style beard and challenged him on his theology, Farook stormed out of the party, went home, picked up his wife, and returned dressed in full-body tactical gear and armed with automatic weapons to shoot up the place before speeding away in a black SUV the couple rented. Fortunately, in this case, as more and more details became available — for example, the discovery in the couple’s home of ISIS and al-Qaeda videos, homemade pipe bombs, and enough explosive material to blow up a small town — it became more difficult for the country to practice mass doublethink. That, however, did not stop the ongoing Muslim-related newspeak campaign. Despite the fact that this attack (as well as many others) was carried out by Muslims, in the name of Islam, some still refuse to link it to Islam.
Does every Muslim commit acts of terror? Of course not. And as far as we know, no one is alleging that. To be clear, we aren’t alleging that either! But there are those Muslims who believe they are carrying out the Qur’anic command to “strike terror into the hearts of infidels” (3:151; 8:12) when they commit such acts. But without overtly recognizing the obvious link between Islam and terrorism, it becomes very difficult to combat the problem. One of today’s most prolific Orwellian sayings that we’re supposed to accept uncritically is that terrorist attacks have nothing to do with Islam. “Let’s be clear,” Hillary Clinton tweeted on November 19, “Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” But it is instructive to note that, while Islam may not be our adversary, jihadists say they are motivated by Islam. They have declared us their adversaries. They shout Allahu akbar! when they kill people. On November 20, for example, terrorists in Mali released hostages who could quote the Qur’an. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad and openly talks about restoring the caliphate, a distinctly Islamic tenet. And many of sound mind have pointed out the obvious: The Islamic State is called the Islamic State.
Those not lured into the doublethink state of cognitive dissonance can reasonably understand that some Muslims have quite a lot to do with terrorism, and that Islam has more than a little something to do with those Muslims and their barbaric actions. Like those who were led by their hardcore theology to kill three thousand people on 9/11. Or blow up trains in Spain. Or target London’s public transit system with bombs. Or slaughter students at a Kenyan university. Or devastate a nightclub in Indonesia. Or shoot up a shopping mall in Nairobi. Or lay siege to a hotel in Mumbai. Or terrorize Nigerian schoolgirls. Or, you know, take hostages in a Parisian concert hall before slaughtering one hundred and thirty of them.
We are also, in our state of doublethink, expected to accept the corollary that Muslims are peaceful and tolerant. Of course, it’s easy to prove that some — indeed, many — Muslims are peaceful, if that means they do not advocate acts of terrorism or take part in them. That’s nice. But peacefulness and tolerance are not the same concept, nor do they necessarily go hand in hand. When considering Muslim tolerance, one might inquire: Are Muslim attitudes toward drinking alcohol tolerant? (A restaurant that serves wine is said to be the embodiment of evil.) Are Muslims tolerant when it comes to homosexuality and same-sex marriage? (According to Sharia law, homosexuals are to be stoned and thrown off a cliff.) Free speech? (Consider the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper office in Paris, the assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, or the fatwas against novelist Salman Rushdie and former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali.) Women’s rights? (Consider honor killings, female genital mutilation, or that in Saudi Arabia women may not drive and wife-beating is culturally acceptable.) Freedom of religion? (Converts from Islam to Christianity are to receive the death penalty.) Music? (London’s Royal College of Music has been called “Satanic,” and imams have claimed that music is the way in which Jews spread “the Satanic web” to corrupt young Muslims.) Art? (Painted images are considered an insult.) Sports? (Playing chess has been compared to dipping one’s hands in the blood of pigs, and some Muslim clerics have condemned soccer as a Jewish and Christian tool to undermine Islamic culture.) It would take a great deal of denial in order to assert that Islam is a tolerant religion.
The same difficulty arises when trying to understand how Islam qualifies as a “religion of peace,” as both President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly maintained. Never mind that the belief system of radical Islam is based on violent passages from the Qur’an and Hadith, and modeled on the jihadist actions of generations of Muslims — beginning with Muhammad himself, who beheaded captives, enslaved children, and raped women captured in battle, encouraging other Muslims to act likewise. (No, Muhammad is not similar to Jesus Christ in any way, as some Western apologists maintain.) Furthermore, Muhammad directed Muslims to wage war on the members of other religions and bring them under submission to Islam. According to most estimates, approximately eighteen thousand acts of terrorism have been carried out in the name of Islam during the past decade. And there’s little that has changed in this regard through the centuries, going back to the decades immediately following the death of Muhammad when Muslims had captured land and people within the borders of over twenty-eight modern countries outside of Saudi Arabia. To this day, not a week goes by that Muslims do not attempt to kill Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists explicitly in the name of Allah. Statistics speak the truth: Pick any thirty-day period during the previous year and note the number of acts of terrorism throughout the world. Two important points come to the fore: First, nearly one hundred percent of the terrorist acts have been committed by Muslims overtly in the name of Islam. From mid-March to mid-April 2015, for example, Muslim terrorism occurred in twenty-five countries and amassed more than twenty-eight hundred fatalities. The vast majority of these jihadi acts of radical Islamic terror go unreported in the American media. On top of that, a Pew Research report reveals that ninety-nine percent of Afghan Muslims, ninety-one percent of Iraqi Muslims, and eighty-four percent of Pakistani Muslims identify themselves as “fundamentalists” who favor Sharia law. Thirty-nine percent of Afghanistan’s Muslims say they consider violent acts such as suicide bombings as always or sometimes justified “in defense of Islam.”
Another recent repeated affirmation of newspeak comes by way of the claim — made by President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and a host of primetime pundits — that jihadi attacks are inspired by the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates who dare to speak the words radical Islamic terrorism. As such, it stands to reason that if those pesky Republican candidates would just shut their traps when it comes to jihadi terrorism and all things Muslim, the world would be a peaceful place where ISIS terrorists would lay down their scimitars and Kalashnikovs and stop talking about subjugating infidels and establishing the caliphate at the expense of non-Muslims.
The only way one could stoop to such illogic would be to exercise the principle of doublethink.
It gets worse. Not only are we expected to disregard the facts of history, both recent and ancient, in order to buy into the doublethink regarding Islam, we are expected to accept the idea that we, the American (or British or French or German) people, are responsible for acts of terror and violence committed by Muslims. We are expected to accept the idea that we are the problem, not the radical Muslim jihadists. We are expected to accuse ourselves of being hateful Islamophobes for simply pointing out the reality that terrorism is connected to Islam, that Islam inspires terrorists, and that significant chunks of Muslims hate their adopted Western nations (Sweden, Britain, France, Germany, the U.S., etc.) with their democratic laws, privileges, and recognition of human rights for all people.
As one paradoxical Orwellian aphorism states, “War is peace.” So yes, in the Orwellian sense, Islam is a religion of peace. But just as in Big Brother’s Oceania, the only way to peace is to wage war constantly on others. And woe betide those who are unwilling to play along. Woe betide those who suggest that this doublethink is a sham. They will be singled out as “racist” bigots and — egad — “Islamophobes” because, according to doublethink standards, it is a thoughtcrime even to suggest anything negative about Islam.
But aren’t those who believe that we ought not criticize any aspect of Islam or its adherents the ones who rightly ought to hold the distinction of being Islamophobes? They are the ones who truly fear Islam. They know that radical Islamic terror is a reality. But because they are under the hypnotic political spell of doublethink, they are unable to reconcile that with the liberal narrative that tells them terrorism is unrelated to Islam, that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the ultimate perpetrators of terrorism are those voices critical of Islam. They are too busy giving an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
The foregoing article, "Giving an Appearance of Solidity to Pure Wind," was originally published in the January-February 2016 issue of the New Oxford Review and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.