U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder refused yesterday to define recent terrorist actions in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere as “Radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism.” Instead, he said, “The terminology has – it seems to me – little or no impact on what ultimately we have to do.”
Those comments, catnip to the thriving talk radio industry, sent WIBC’s Tony Katz on a tirade. “Words matter,” Katz bellowed into his Monument Circle microphone this morning. As someone who makes a living in communications, I can hardly disagree with that sentiment. But, in this instance, could it be that Holder is right? Does it matter what we call it? Whose definition is it anyway?
To answer that, let me go back to this past Saturday afternoon, in a galaxy far, far away from politics. In the midst of an otherwise jovial Q & A with actor and Priceline pitch-man William Shatner at the Indianapolis Comic Con, one attendee posed a question that sent a hush across the room.
“We live in a world where people want to define you,” he began. “But how do you define yourself?”
His introspective Yoda-like inquiry, as deep as Darth Vader’s voice, applies to politics as much as it applies to all of us. The world is constantly trying to slap labels on people. For instance, does it matter if someone is a “liberal” or a “conservative” and who decides? I made a Mitch Daniels-esque suggestion in my book, The War on Millennials, that we would all be well served to dispense of those particular labels and just have a good old fashioned debate. The labels, and our subjective definitions of each, do more harm than good. They propel us to immediately question the beliefs and motives of those who think differently.
And that’s exactly what’s taking place with Holder’s comments. By not defining one act or another as having been perpetrated by “radical Islam” or some other label, the way others want to define it, he is now the subject of not only mockery but suspicion.
In the end, the results matter more than the definition. Even if Holder were to call it “radical Islam” tomorrow, that wouldn’t change this administration’s inability to contain the growing threat from ISIS and like-minded individuals. Why can’t we just focus on that?