TIME politics

Obama Is Right Not to Talk About ‘Islamic’ Terrorism

President Obama Addresses DNC Winter Meeting
Alex Wong—EPA President Barack Obama speaks during the General Session of the 2015 DNC Winter Meeting in Washington, DC, Feb. 20, 2015.

John McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

No one should have trouble understanding why a war on Islamic terrorists isn’t a war on Islam? Nonsense.

The Obama slam of the moment is that he should be calling our battle against ISIS one against Islamic terrorists, instead of pretending that the battle is against something as general as “terrorists” alone. The people angry at Obama about this are forgetting how educated they are.

Here’s what I mean. The Obama administration wants to avoid people thinking our battle is against Islam in general. His critics, however, assume that it would be obvious to anybody that you can battle one strain of Islam without having it in for Muslims in general. That perspective is typical of an educated Westerner, who today is trained — to an almost religious degree — to strive to view people as individuals rather than to stereotype. Stereotyping is treated among us as, essentially, a transgression of human decency.

We’ve learned our lesson — to the point that we forget that it ever was a lesson. Surely anyone knows that battling a particular group of Islamic terrorists is to battle those individuals, not Islam as a whole, right? Wrong, actually.

Attributing group traits to individuals is a deeply seated psychological habit. When a person is unfamiliar, we are less likely to process them as an individual than we are to seek to classify them into some higher category. Implicit Association tests, most famous these days as revealing that black people are more readily associated with negative words than positive ones, are ample testament to this. Stereotyping is almost certainly programmed in our genes. Once it may have been a useful defense mechanism, but today it is disadvantageous as often as it is useful.

But that means: Just as for some it can be a short step from “He’s black” to “He’s a criminal,” for just as many, it’s a short step from “They are battling that group of Muslims” to “They don’t like Muslims, period.” This isn’t hard to explain: Given our natural tendency to generalize about persons, it’s easier to see someone as, for example, “Muslim,” than to see that person as simply one of billions of infinitely variant individuals.

So, it will most certainly not be obvious to many human beings that a war against “Islamic terrorists” is not a war against Islam. Recent historical events certainly encourage the misconception, but even without them, that overgeneralizing leap would have been common — because it’s natural.

The Obama Administration has neither the time nor the wherewithal to train the world, Karate Kid-style, in the mental feat of resisting the impulse to generalize about people and see them as individuals first. The hopelessness of such a feat should be more obvious to Obama’s critics than it is.

We see how we fail to make subtle distinctions every day in our own domestic politics.

On the left, it is considered acceptable to use a single awkward comment about people of a color or gender or class as evidence that one is, overall, racist, sexist, or classist and dismissible from civilized society. The case of Justine Sacco, treated as a near-psychopath for one racially insensitive tweet to friends and family, is illustrative.

On the right, imagine Obama, because he is given to mentioning mistakes America has made in the past, being tarred as, overall, someone who doesn’t love America.

That’s a mental jump, by Rudolph Giuliani, from Barack Obama the individual to a traitorous radical figurine. Both Giuliani and the people who ruined Sacco’s life on Twitter are normal humans, operating from the same deep-seated impulse to generalize, especially about things feared or hated.

For the left, isms. For the right, collegetown radicalism, ACORN, and such. For many watching America, a war on Islam.

No one should have trouble understanding why a war on Islamic terrorists isn’t a war on Islam? Nonsense. No one should have any trouble understanding why the Obama administration must mince its words when fighting Islamic terrorists. Not all people are initiated into the mental acrobatics of resisting stereotyping, and even we aren’t as good at it as we like to think.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Executives

Starbucks CEO: Giuliani’s Obama Remarks ‘Vicious’

Howard Schultz
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz participates in a forum in Washington on Nov. 10, 2014.

The outspoken chief executive responded forcefully to the former New York mayor's comments

Though he recently told TIME he has no personal political ambitions, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hasn’t stopped stepping into the political fray.

On Friday, Schultz issued a statement lambasting former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Giuliani’s recent declaration that President Obama doesn’t love America. The comments were “vicious” and “profoundly offensive,” Schultz said.

Politico reported that on Wednesday, Giuliani was speaking at a private dinner for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he said: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Schultz issued the following statement: “As an American, I find Rudy Giuliani’s vicious comments about President Obama ‘not loving America’ to be profoundly offensive to both the President and the Office.”

A Starbucks spokesperson on Friday morning said: “We are not providing any additional commentary around it.”

Schultz doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on political issues. In December, he raised some eyebrows when he addressed the shootings of black suspects by police offers. During an Open Forum at the Starbucks Support center in Seattle, he encouraged employees to talk about their own experiences with racism He released a video of that event, and, in a letter sent exclusively to TIME, he expressed his dismay over the situation. “I’m deeply saddened by what I have seen, and all too aware of the ripple effect,” he wrote.

Schultz has often decried the political gridlock in Washington. He has also addressed the federal minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour. On that issue, he tends to be circumspect. Starbucks pays more than the minimum wage and offers healthy benefits packages. Schultz supports raising the federal minimum, but he has said that raising it by too much—say, to $15 an hour, as some activists have demanded—would put a crimp on businesses, and lead to lower benefits and layoffs.


TIME language

The Secret of Abraham Lincoln’s Success as a Writer?

Abraham Lincoln And Family
Kean Collection / Getty Images Engraved portrait of President Abraham Lincoln and his son Thomas, as Lincoln reads from a large book, circa 1850.

He had a reputation as a country bumpkin, but he knew his grammar inside out

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Abraham Lincoln’s formal education was remarkably sparse for a man who later became president. By his own estimate, his schooldays amounted to less than a year altogether, and these were passed in poorly equipped frontier classrooms. He wrote dismissively in his autobiography of the “schools, so called,” where the teachers were barely qualified, and anyone in the neighborhood rumored to know Latin “was looked upon as a wizard.” Yet Lincoln is remembered today as one of our most eloquent presidents. His best-known speeches are still familiar and cherished.

Lincoln developed his linguistic skills partly by following a once-common early American tradition—self-betterment through grammar study. Grammar books were the self-help manuals of the early republic. Cheaper and more available than other books, they were frequently the only classroom texts in small rural schoolhouses. They were also the only secular books in many homes. For people too poor or too isolated to attend school, mastering a grammar primer was the first step toward economic and social success. Grammar study was thought to sharpen the mind and prepare people for further education, as well as leading to a better command of elegant speech.

As with thousands of other nineteenth-century Americans, the young Abe’s self-education and rise out of poverty started with basic textbooks. These included English schoolmaster Thomas Dilworth’s New Guide to the English Tongue and fellow countryman Noah Webster’s Grammatical Institute. Like most other popular grammar books, these titles were first published in the eighteenth century and had gone through numerous editions by Lincoln’s day. Dilworth was available in nearly all classrooms, even in remote places like rural Indiana, and secondhand copies of both books were fairly easy to find. Lincoln would have learned parts of speech and basic sentence structure from these books.

The adolescent Lincoln also studied elocution books, including one owned by his stepmother—William Scott’s Lessons in Elocution. This volume would have introduced Lincoln to the standardizing rules that all eighteenth-century grammar books emphasized. Among the “common errors” that Scott discusses are ending a sentence with a preposition (Who did you give it to?), following a preposition with a subject pronoun (between you and I), and following the verb to be with an object pronoun (It was him.) Scott also offers a section on literary devices like antithesis.

When Lincoln began contemplating the possibility of a law degree, he took up grammar study at a higher level, making an effort to seek out the most respected authors. Learning that a local farmer owned a copy of schoolteacher Samuel Kirkham’s popular English Grammar in Familiar Lectures, he walked several miles to borrow it. From another friend he borrowed a copy of the best-selling grammar book of the time, English Grammar, Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners by American expatriate Lindley Murray.

Typically for that time, Lincoln mastered the books by memorizing them. He would have started at the beginning, with definitions—“A noun is the name of any person, place, or thing.” Then he would have progressed to more complex rules—“The verb to be, through all its variations, has the same case after it as that which next precedes it.” He would have learned such niceties as the various ways to use shall—including for determination and insistence—and the proper usage of the subjunctive mood. Murray’s book also provided more sophisticated compositional advice in the form of style rules. Here Lincoln would have read, for instance, about the value of a “plain, native” style over highly ornamented prose.

Lincoln’s enemies frequently portrayed him as an illiterate country bumpkin. When the Republican Party announced his nomination for the presidency, the New York Herald sneered, “They pass over Seward, Chase, and Banks, who are statesmen and able men, and they take up a fourth-rate lecturer who cannot speak good grammar.” The Albany Atlas and Argus complained,“He … is not known, except as a slang-whanging stump speaker.”

The critics’ attacks weren’t really about Lincoln’s speaking style. In the nineteenth century, “bad grammar” was a code that suggested a whole range of other deficits. Saying that Lincoln couldn’t use language correctly implied that he was of humble origins and therefore unworthy of the highest office in the land. Newspaper readers of the time would have gotten the message.

Contrary to what his enemies claimed, Lincoln’s speeches were carefully constructed. They show that he thoroughly grasped the grammar rules found in the books he had studied. For example, his Cooper Union speech of February 27, 1860 features the use of nominative case after the verb to be (“It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers”). Lincoln also used the present subjunctive unless you be rather than unless you are (“Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe … the Constitution as you please”), and correctly placed prepositions before their objects (“I give [the Democrats] … all other living men … among whom to search”).

The Gettysburg address, delivered on November 19, 1863, includes the specialized use of shall with third person to promise or express determination (“Government of the people, for the people, by the people shall not perish from the earth”). The emphatic use of shall had been on the wane since the late eighteenth century. By the 1860s it would have been uncommon outside of grammar books, yet Lincoln obviously understood how to use it effectively.

None of the formal grammar rules that Lincoln applied in his speeches could have been acquired naturally from the people around him while he was growing up. He learned them by studying grammar. Grammar books promised to set users like our sixteenth president on the path to scholarly and social achievement. In this case at least, that promise was fulfilled.

Rosemarie Ostler is a linguist and former librarian, Her books about slang and word origins explore the colorful turns of phrase in America’s past lexicon. Her articles have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Whole Earth, Christian Science Monitor, Verbatim, Writer’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.com among others. Her latest book is “Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War Over Words Shaped Today’s Language” (May 2015)

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TIME politics

America Shouldn’t Tolerate ‘Biden Being Biden’

Carter delivers acceptance speech as new US Secretary of Defense in Washington
Gary Cameron—Reuters New U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter delivers his acceptance speech at the White House in Washington on Feb. 17, 2015.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

The only reason Joe Biden gets away with getting handsy with women is because he has a (D) after his name

There isn’t anything new about men in positions of power behaving inappropriately. A handsy boss, who has no filter and no fear of offending, is a staple of old movies and shows like Mad Men. For much of history people just looked the other way. These men were too powerful, to criticize them was to cross them, and to cross them might mean a lot of trouble for the whistleblower. Your career might be lost, your family ostracized.

What then can be said of people, today, looking the other way as the vice president of the United States paws woman after woman in public, with cameras flashing and their husband or parent three feet away? We’d love to imagine that the husband or father would step in, remove Joe Biden’s hands from his wife or daughter, and give him a hard, warning look. The truth is, Biden’s harassment often comes at the swearing-in events of the husband or parent. These men, reaching the pinnacle of their career, stand on a stage or at a podium with their supportive families at their side. The vice president’s attendance is itself a showing of respect and a recognition of their success. It is not the time for anyone to make a scene.

The most recent victim is Stephanie Carter. Her husband, Ashton Carter, was sworn in as the new defense secretary. As Ashton spoke at the podium, Biden rubbed Stephanie’s shoulders and whispered in her ear. She is only the latest in a series of women inappropriately groped by the vice president, America’s “Creepy Uncle Joe” as people stood by and watched. One of the more awkward moments from the Joe Biden inappropriate behavior reel is his whispering, grabbing, and ultimately trying to kiss Delaware Senator Chris Coon’ daughter Maggie. She is 13. Coons defended Biden saying that “he was being Joe” and it was just his way of being “thoughtful and sweet” to a young girl in the spotlight. Ultimately, what else could he say? Biden being Biden is an acceptable explanation to the media watching, what is a senator from the vice president’s party supposed to do?

His defenders claim he’s from a different era, the equivalent of the kissing host on Family Feud. Except this isn’t the 1970s and these women aren’t on a game show. Others find the humor in sexual harassment in a way they likely wouldn’t if Joe Biden didn’t have a (D) after his name. NBC’s Capitol Hill Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell joshed Biden was “multi-tasking” when he had his arm wrapped around a teenager while swearing in her mother, Senator Joni Ernst. Biden also told the teen “I hope mom has a big fence around your house.” Today co-host Matt Lauer wise-cracked that this was Biden’s way of “welcoming” the families of the new Senate class. Even PBS found “Biden being Biden” just so adorable.

The phrase “boys will be boys” has been used historically to excuse bad behavior by men with a shrug instead of with punishment. But in 2015, things should be different. We don’t allow bosses to rub their secretaries’ shoulders, smell their hair, or look them up and down and exclaim “holy mackerel!” all things Biden has done to daughters and wives of people with much less power than he has.

That this goes on in front of all of us, and few criticize it, is shameful. It might be hard for the families of these girls and women to stand up to the vice president. It shouldn’t be as hard for the rest of us.

Read next: Half of Americans See the Future in Hillary Clinton, Poll Says

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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TIME politics

Joe Biden Got a Little Too Close to the New Defense Secretary’s Wife

Joe Biden Swears In New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter
Alex Wong—Getty Images Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter delivers remarks after being sworn in during a ceremony in the White House in Washington. D.C. while his wife Stephanie Carter and Vice President Joseph Biden observe on Feb. 17, 2015.

"The world's most powerful close talker" strikes again

During the swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Tuesday, cameras caught Vice President Joe Biden whispering into the new defense secretary’s wife’s ears. Critics were quick to pounce on what they saw as another example of the veep’s poor etiquette.

“Joe Biden strikes again with inappropriate touching,” wrote Truth Revolt.

“New SecDef can’t even defend his wife from Joe Biden,” the Daily Caller quipped.

This isn’t Biden’s first time close-talking. In fact, the Washington Post declared Biden “the world’s most powerful close talker.”

There was that time last year when he cozied up to a biker:

And then when he chatted with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons’ daughter Maggie during a different swearing-in ceremony. (After the Internet backlash, Coons noted that his daughter “doesn’t think the vice president is creepy.”)

Read next: Justice Ginsburg Admits She Was Tipsy at State of the Union

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Scott Walker’s High-School Science Teacher: ‘Man Up’

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker participates in a panel discussion at the American Action Forum
Yuri Gripas—Reuters Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker participates in a panel discussion at the American Action Forum in Washington, Jan. 30, 2015.

The Republican presidential hopeful refused to answer a recent question about evolution. The governor's former science teacher tells TIME she isn't pleased

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—a leader in the 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes—prompted some stateside head-scratching this week when he dodged a British journalist’s question about evolution.

Walker said, “I’m going to punt on that one… That’s a question that a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” He was in London on a trade mission.

Among those who questioned Walker: the chair of his high school science department, Ann Serpe, 73. “Answer the question when they ask you!” Serpe said in an interview. “He could have manned up a bit. That’s what I would tell him.”

Serpe, who taught chemistry and chaired the math and science department at Delavan-Darien High School in Delavan, Wis., before her retirement in 1998, now lives in nearby Elkhorn. She recalls that Walker, her pupil and an advisee in student government, was a bright, committed participant in class. Walker graduated in 1986.

What would Walker have learned in high school? “We taught the theory of evolution, and human evolution, as a prerequisite to understanding biological classification. I went out and looked at my biology textbook just to make sure.”

Serpe says, “I don’t know the dogma of the Baptist church where Scott’s father was the minister, as it concerns evolution. But I do recall that Scott was very accepting of everything in science class. He had a good sense of it.”

Walker’s onetime teacher has seen him a few times since his high-school days. She even attended one of Walker’s fundraisers in Milwaukee. Darwin, though, hasn’t come up in their conversations.

She says she hopes he—”as an intelligent young man”—would understand the importance of scientific thought, that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive. Walker, who may be two decades removed from Serpe’s classroom, said on Twitter that science still informs his worldview.


Oregon’s Kate Brown Becomes First Openly Bisexual U.S. Governor

Then-Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is shown during a celebration at the Oregon Historical Society to mark the 156th anniversary of Oregon's admission to the union as the 33rd state in Portland, Ore., Feb. 14, 2015.
Don Ryan—AP Then-Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is shown during a celebration at the Oregon Historical Society to mark the 156th anniversary of Oregon's admission to the union as the 33rd state in Portland, Ore., Feb. 14, 2015.

Sworn in Wednesday after Governor John Kitzhaber's resignation

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown was sworn in as the governor of Oregon Wednesday, after the resignation of Governor John Kitzhaber last week.

Brown will be the first openly bisexual U.S. governor in history, the sixth woman currently to lead a state and the second woman to serve as governor of Oregon.

The former Secretary of State was summoned to Oregon from Washington, D.C., last week as Kitzhaber contemplated his resignation amid an ethics investigation involving his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Calling the situation “bizarre and unprecedented,” Brown told the governor that she and her staff were ready to serve if he decides to resign.

Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday afternoon. By Oregon law, the secretary of state becomes governor in the case of the governor’s resignation. She assumed office Wednesday.

Brown becomes the highest-ranking openly bisexual elected official in the country (Representative Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly bisexual member of Congress in 2013). But she isn’t the first LGBT governor to serve — the first was New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who resigned three months after he came out in 2004. Brown has been married to husband Dan Little for the past 15 years.

Brown’s political career in Oregon dates back to 1991, when she was appointed to a vacant House seat. The Oregonian describes her tenure as secretary of state as “relatively nondescript” but noted she has a reputation for collaboration.

Read next: Oregon Governor Kitzhaber Announces His Resignation Amid Scandal

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