Last night, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly finally gave ISIS what it wants: a declaration that the West and Middle East are, indeed, in a holy war.
In a segment titled, “The Holy War Begins,” O’Reilly used the recent murders of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians to slam President Obama’s approach to ISIS, and quoted a list of religious leaders, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who warned that ISIS threatens “civilization, everything that is decent and noble about humanity. It is a worldwide crisis that cannot, must not, be ignored.”
O’Reilly then ran through the gamut of this week’s right-wing complaints about Obama. These ranged from critiques of the State Department’s Marie Harf’s statement that ISIS cannot be defeated solely with military means, to a bizarre critique that the White House somehow did not recognize that the 21 Egyptians murdered by terrorists were Christian. He concluded with the statement that “the Holy War is here and unfortunately it seems the president will be the last one to acknowledge it.”
His comments seem to be the climax of weeks of agitation from Fox News and other right-wing commentators about Obama avoiding the phrase “Islamic extremism” when talking about ISIS and other terrorists. “Say it, Obama, ‘Islamic,’” instructed Fox News contributor Michael Goodwin. Fox contributor Todd Starnes invoked the biblical “Lake of Fire” in counter-terrorism strategy. Christian evangelist Franklin Graham appeared on Greta Van Susteren’s show to explain that Obama just had too much affinity for Islam:
His mother was married to a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. Then she married a man from Indonesia. He was raised in Indonesia. Went to Islamic schools. I assume she was a Muslim. So his whole life, his experiences have been surrounded by Islam. He only knows Islam. And he has given a pass to Islam. He is refusing to understand the evil that is in front of him
What O’Reilly and others at Fox seem to be missing is that there’s a pretty good reason no world leader here in the West or in the Middle East has accepted the frame that we’re in a “holy war”: it’s exactly what ISIS wants. In November 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared in a televised address that “fighting is obligatory upon each individual” Muslim, and referred to the United States and allied forces as “crusaders”—invoking the imagery of a holy war like those fought between the Church and Muslim empires centuries ago.
In other words, the Fox crowd wants Americans to feel this is a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims—ignore for a second that ISIS is being fought by the Muslim Syrian army, Iranian military, Hezbollah, Free Syrian Army, Iraqi Army, Lebanese Army, Egyptian Army, UAE Army, Jordanian military, and others who share the Islamic faith—and ISIS’ leaders also want their base to feel like this is a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims.
So Fox News and ISIS share at least one goal: a holy war between Islam and the West. Sadly for them, most people in both places aren’t biting.