For eight years under the Bush administration the United States has been engaged in a “war against terrorism.” The word “terrorism” does not indicate a specific group or entity, but is an abstraction like saying we are “waging a war against crime.” President Obama has begun the process of switching from the aggressive language of Bush towards a language of peace and reconciliation. Only once has the new president used the expression “terrorism” and that was part of a sentence that listed forces to be confronted. The Bush language came across to the American people as though the United States was engaged in a war against Muslims since “terrorism” was only associated with that group. At no point did Bush refer to the brutality in Zimbabwe or the death of five million in the Congo as examples of “terrorism.”
Obama made his first television interview on a Muslim TV station and talked about seeking to find peaceful ways to dealing with issues. He understands the power of words in transforming views of listeners. The aggressive tone of Bush from “getting terrorists” to “Mission Accomplished” has confused, not clarified the nature of what America seeks to accomplish in the world.
There are terrorist groups in any cluster of humans whether they be Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic or atheist. President Obama is correct in identifying specific groups as enemies and ending a fight against abstractions.