As we've become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino. And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.
What this suggests to me, if not to the man who said the words, is that the situation requires an American propaganda war of comparable intensity to the air war being waged in the Levant, to reach people who may not care what happens to ISIL, or who have no imam to steer them from jihad. Since we don't necessarily know who they are, we need a campaign to reach everybody. Obviously it can't be an "Islam is bullshit" campaign, much less a "Islam is bullshit because you deny Christ" campaign, however much some people would like one or the other. But it should be a campaign that combines the positive message of generations of peaceful Muslim settlement in the U.S. (as against those yahoos who ask, "Where did they all come from, anyway?") with stern reminders of the First Amendment's meaning. Those previous generations of Muslims weren't clamoring for the sharia, so it shouldn't be that hard to walk this generation back from that demand. If their real beef is with American foreign policy, we can talk about that, on the understanding that Muslims can no more dictate that policy than any other religious group, though it would be more helpful if we actually acted on that principle more often. We should get the numerous successful Muslims in the U.S., preferably observant ones to drive the point home, simply to show off their success and emphasize that it doesn't depend on the sharia. Muslim scholars can step in to ask the American umma what they've really done to proselytize for Islam peacefully here before taking up the sword. And we should be able, without compromising the anti-discriminatory principles Obama values above all, to state plainly that if Muslims don't feel secure, or lack self-esteem, in the absence of sharia law in America, they're probably living in the wrong country. Whether these steps appeal to readers or not, it should be clear that there are options short of the extreme remedies proposed by Republicans, just as it should be clear that there is more that should be done about jihadism, short of the Republican options, than Obama has yet considered.