Obama, Phil Robertson and how we talk about the militants of ISIS

Branson Parler

Branson Parler
September 5, 2014

Phil Robertson says to convert or kill ISIS. Obama promises to degrade and destroy. What does this mean for religion, politics and public discourse?

September 9, 2014

I would suggest that part of the difference lies in President Obama referring to ISIS as a political threat with the possibility of destabilizing a region. One is free to analyze the wisdom of President Obama's suggestion and certainly free to critique the notion that political violence is somehow necessary or effective. While President Obama's words give me pause and would not be the route that I hope we take as a nation, I cannot compare his language to that of a terrorist because he is responding as the leader of a nation-state responding to a political threat.

What makes Phil Robertson's comments of a different quality is not just the religious dimension. Part of it is a nexus of such sentiments that generally extend to Islamophobia more broadly, rather than just feeling such violence toward religious extremists (an article from Charisma News last week demonstrated this quite clearly, arguing explicitly that it was time for religious violence against ALL Muslims). While it may not be fair to lump Phil Robertson's comments in with this (since, after all, he was speaking about ISIS particularly), for better or worse Robertson has associated himself with a certain picture of conservative Christianity, where such Islamophobic reactions are more common.

Again, not disagreeing with your central thesis - i.e., that we should not necessarily just accept presidential sabre-rattling with a simple shrug of the shoulders - I would argue that there is some merit to treating their responses differently.

September 9, 2014

Well put, Kory. I've been trying to figure out how to articulate the very thing you just articulated! I also think each man's intended audience should be considered. The president's words may not inspire many Americans to action, per se, but, considering his office, it is very likely they'll be heard by actual members of ISIS. The words of Mr. Robertson probably won't make it over to Iraq, but they may serve as "inspiration" to people in this country that share his values. I think both men were aware of their respective audiences when they made their statements. Both men were talking tough, but for potentially different reasons.

As a follow-up: Who do you think are the leading pop culture "influencers" out there, for better or worse? I.e., who are the people that can get people fired up about an issue just from a tweet, interview, article, etc? Are entertainers more influential than politicians these days, or do offices/titles ultimately still carry more weight than media personalities?

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