Spot On

This is the response of the Obama administration to the recent Al Shabab carnage in Uganda:

In an interview on South African television, Mr Obama said: “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organisations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself.

“They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents, without regard to long-term consequences, for their short-term tactical gains.”

An administration official went further, saying that the Ugandan attacks show that “al-Qaeda is a racist organisation that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life”.

Obama may have hit the odd bum note, in diplomatic and strategic terms, but this is not one of them.

The primary victims of jihadists are their neighbours who, more often than not, are Muslim. They are not only usually Muslims, they are generally poor people, whose skin will typically be brown or black. This is a point that everybody knows, but is not emphasised nearly often enough.

This response is perfectly calibrated. The attempts of Islamists to frame these atrocities as a battle between the West and Islam, between belief and kufr, are not even acknowledged.  Obama’s account tells it like it is.

I would guess that there may be some discussion of the use of the term “racist”. Al Shabab members are generally of the same ethnicity as their victims. However, to the extent that Al Shabab is linked to Yemeni and other Arab Al Qaedaists, it might perhaps be said that ‘light skinned’ people are instigating wars in ‘dark skinned’ countries, careless of how many dark skinned people die. If the USA can be described as ‘racist’ for the consequences of its military entanglements in Afghanistan and Iraq – and it frequently is – then why not use that term to describe the consequences of Al Qaeda’s activities?

I am certain that Islamists do not regard themselves as racists: they are pure religious bigots. But if they want to claim that opposition to their politics is a form of racism, then they can hardly object if a diplomat throws the charge back at them.

Notably, Obama does not say “racist”, but rather talks of Al Qaeda’s careless, instrumental attitude to “African life”. But it will, I hope, be the term “racist” that is remembered.

It is a fortunate incident of Obama’s  ethnicity, that the epithet  – “racist” – will potentially gain greater force by association with him, than it would have had this argument been made by his predecessor.