Opinion: UMD's Jeffery Herf, department of history professor, weighs in on problems with radical Islam.

By Jeffery Herf, The New Republic

Islamism is a profoundly reactionary phenomenon. The litany of its commonalities with the modern reactionary tradition is embarrassingly familiar: anti-Semitism; the rejection of individual freedom and autonomy, liberal democracy, equality for women, and the separation of church, mosque, and state. Nor should the Islamists’ hatred and repression of homosexuals, including use of the death penalty, go unmentioned. Islamism is the most important political movement in our time to justify its actions with reference to paranoid conspiracy theories and the celebration of death and martyrdom. Because Islamists define voters in all democracies as sharing guilt with the governments they vote for, they make democratic citizenship a crime and thus justify terrorism against innocents. If any political party or movement with such ideas emerged in Europe or the United States, it would be the subject of regular moral and political denunciation as a variant of Fascism and Nazism.

I am only stating the obvious. Clearly, Obama knows that the previous sentences are true. It would behoove him to let the rest of the world know he agrees. Most voters don’t have a detailed knowledge of the spectrum of Islamist politics, but they can sense when politicians avoid expressing what common sense tells them is true. If Obama and other political leaders of the center do not use plain language, the field for doing so opens up to demagogues who have no interest in or ability to make distinctions between Islam and Islamism. Articulating distinctions and grasping nuance is one of our president’s strengths and one of the reasons people admire him. I urge him to put those talents to use.