Right-wing media figures criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton for not saying “radical Islam” during remarks they made on December 6, claiming terrorism cannot be fought without using the term. However, others have noted the term alienates Muslims and aids terrorists.
Hillary Clinton And President Obama Explain They Do Not Say “Radical Islam” Because The U.S. Is Not At War With A Religion
Hillary Clinton: Using Term “Radical Islam” To Describe The Enemy “Sounds Like We Are Declaring War Against A Religion.” During the December 6 edition of ABC's This Week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton explained why she does not say the U.S. is fighting radical Islam, noting, “that sounds like we are declaring war against a religion.” Clinton further explained that the term “doesn't do justice to the vast numbers of Muslims in our own country and around the world who are peaceful people” :
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (HOST): You have also been reluctant to say we're fighting radical Islam, and I wonder why not. Isn't it a mistake not to say it plain, that the violence is being pushed by radical elements in that faith?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, that's a different thing. Radical elements who use a dangerous and distorted view of Islam to promote their jihadist ambitions, I'm fine with that. I say it all the time. And I go after Islamists too.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's the problem with 'radical Islam?'
CLINTON: Well, the problem is that that sounds like we are declaring war against a religion. And that to me is, number one, wrong --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though the qualifier 'radical' is there?
CLINTON: No, because, look, you know enough about religion. You've studied it, and there are radicals, people who believe all kinds of things, in every religion in the world. I don't want to do that, because, number one, it doesn't do justice to the vast numbers of Muslims in our own country and around the world who are peaceful people. Number two, it helps to create this clash of civilizations that is actually a recruiting tool for ISIS and other radical jihadists who use this as a way of saying, 'we're in a war against the West, you must join us. If you're a Muslim, you must join us.' No, if you're a law-abiding, peace-loving Muslim, you need to be with us against those who are distorting Islam. [ABC, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 12/6/15]
President Obama: U.S. Is “At War With Terrorists,” Not In “A War Between America And Islam.” During a December 6 Oval Office address on the San Bernardino shooting attack and the threat of terrorism, President Obama noted that “Our nation has been at war with terrorists” since 9/11 and that the United States would overcome the threat of terrorism. The president also noted that “the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim” and warned we cannot let " this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam":
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11. In the process, we've hardened our defenses -- from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe. Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas -- disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda's leadership.
We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world -- including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we're to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate. [CNN, 12/6/15]
Right-Wing Media Attack Clinton And Obama For “Refusing” To Say “Radical Islam”
Fox's Childers: Clinton “Fac[ing] Criticism” For “Refusing” To Say “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” During the December 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers claimed Clinton “has faced criticism in recent weeks for refusing to use the term 'radical Islamic terrorism' in the wake of ISIS attacks” :
HEATHER CHILDERS: Well Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton trying to explain why she, like the president, will not use the term 'radical Islam.'
Clinton has faced criticism in recent weeks for refusing to use the term 'radical Islamic terrorism' in the wake of ISIS attacks. [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 12/7/15]
Fox's Doocy: Clinton “Still Refuses To Say We're At War With Radical Islam.” During an interview with Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on the December 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy said Clinton “still refuses to say we're at war with radical Islam” :
STEVE DOOCY: You mentioned Hillary Clinton a moment ago. One of the things she said yesterday was, she said we're not winning the ISIS fight. I think we can all agree on that. But she also still refuses to say we're at war with radical Islam.
JEB BUSH: This is radical Islamic terrorism. It is not showing disrespect to the religion of Islam to be clear about this. The simple fact is by not recognizing it, you end up creating strategies that are tepid and weak. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/7/15]
Wall Street Journal's Kissel: Clinton “Insults The Intelligence” Of Americans By Not Saying Radical Islam. On the December 7 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel criticized Clinton's comment, saying, “I don't know why we're tiptoeing around who the enemy is. The enemy is radical Islam and I think that Hillary insults the intelligence of the average American when she plays these word games.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 12/7/15]
National Review Online: War Is “Futile” Against Terrorism If We Cannot Say “Radical Islam.” National Review's Ian Tuttle criticized Clinton's response, saying that “something within Islam is causing” terrorism and arguing that unless “we identify the religious conviction at the heart of Islamic terrorism, we'll continue to wage an ultimately futile war” :
Let's start with the obvious: Madam Secretary is desperately trying to quash the idea that there is a system of belief within Islam that could give rise to Syed Farook and his kind; thus she repairs to the idea that Islam, as a system of belief, is faultless, but that there are “radical” individuals who “use” Islam to justify their actions.
What “radical” might mean here is a mystery, if they are not “radical Muslims.” But apparently they are just “radical human beings” -- like serial killers and Cleveland Browns fans -- and Islam is the ex post facto rationalization they hit upon for the violence they already had in mind.
The tens of thousands -- possibly hundreds of thousands -- of killers sweeping through Iraq and Syria raping and beheading and crucifying are not a convention of murderers who banded together and hit upon “Jihad!” as a handy excuse. Something within Islam is causing this; in fact, there might actually be something called (gulp) “radical Islam.”
And we ought to say so. That does not entail “declaring war against a religion,” or condemning the many Muslims who adhere to something peaceable. But until we identify the religious conviction at the heart of Islamic terrorism, we'll continue to wage an ultimately futile war. [National Review Online, 12/6/15]
Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin Calls Clinton's Response To Criticism “Basically Incoherent.” Jennifer Rubin, blogger for The Washington Post's Right Turn, tweeted an article from The Washington Free Beacon critical of Clinton's interview and called Clinton's response “basically incoherent” :
Hillary Clinton Doubles Down on Refusal to Say 'Radical Islam' https://t.co/tnkFnE4BuC basically incoherent
-- Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) December 6, 2015
Fox's Kristin Fisher: “Critics” Of Obama Have A Problem With The President Not Saying “Radical Islam.” During the December 7 edition Fox & Friends First, Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher said President Obama in his address “never once used the words 'radical Islam,'” which is “something that many of his critics, and many Republicans, have clearly had a problem with” :
KRISTIN FISHER: The president ended his remarks by saying what we should not do. He says we should not be sucked into another ground war in the Middle East, nor should we say that are at war with an entire religion, Islam. In his remarks he never once used the words 'radical Islam,' something that many of his critics, and many Republicans, have clearly had a problem with. [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 12/7/15]
Fox's Doocy: Obama Should Have Added “Just One More Word” To Say “Islamic Terrorism.” During the December 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, after Fox News correspondent Kristen Fisher reported that Obama “never once used the words 'radical Islamic terrorism'” in his address, co-host Steve Doocy noted Obama “did use the word terrorism,” but “should have just added to it. Just one more word” :
KRISTIN FISHER: The president ended his remarks by saying what we should not do. He says we should not be sucked into another ground war in the Middle East, nor should we say that we're at war with an entire religion. In his entire remarks, he never once used the words 'radical Islamic terrorism." Brian, Elisabeth, and Steve.
STEVE DOOCY: Thank you, Kristin. He did use the word terrorism though.
ELISABETH HASSELBECK: He did.
DOOCY: That's a step in the right direction, but then again he had to because his FBI director said it was terrorism, two days earlier.
HASSELBECK: It's a sad state when he gets credit for actually using the word that should have been used all along.
DOOCY: He could have, he should have just added to it.
DOOCY: Just one more word.
HASSELBECK: Just another step forward would be great. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/7/15]
Daily Caller's Matt Lewis: Obama Can't “Marshal The Energy And The Passion” To Defeat Terrorism Without Saying “Radical Islamists.” On the December 7 edition of CNN's New Day, Daily Caller contributor Matt Lewis claimed President Obama has to call terrorists “radical Islamists,” because otherwise “I don't know how you're going to marshal the energy and the passion and the sacrifice it's going to take to defeat it” :
CHRIS CUOMO (HOST): Matt, let me ask you something, let's talk about words. We always say words matter. Why is it so important? You said he said terrorism, that's a good start. President said terrorismlots of times. What he doesn't say is what you want to hear, which is 'Islamic extremism.' Now, he could make a very cogent -- as his people do -- theological argument as to why it's not Islamic, it's Islamism, it's Islamist. But they don't want to make any of these distinctions because they think it means that you're going to war against a faith. Why do you need to hear those words? Why do you think they matter?
MATT LEWIS: Well first let me say I think it's appropriate to parse language very carefully. And I do not think we should be promiscuous in the way that we define the enemy. I think that it is wise to be prudent. I would say, however, that it's hard to defeat an ideology. It's hard to defeat a problem if you're so politically correct that you're not willing to call it what it is. So I'm not for painting with a broad brush. We're not at war with Islam, but we are at war with radical Islamists. And you have to be willing to call it that. If you can't call it that, then I don't know how you're going to marshal the energy and the passion and the sacrifice it's going to take to defeat it. [CNN, New Day, 12/7/15]
Experts Have Explained Why Using The Term “Radical Islam” To Define The Enemy Hurts America's Efforts To Combat Terrorism
Bloomberg View: The Term “Radical Islam” Is Counterproductive To “The Long War Against Radical Islamic Terrorists.” Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake noted that declining to attribute this type of terror attack to “radical Islam” conforms with “a longstanding U.S. policy, not only for Obama but also his predecessor, George W. Bush.” Lake explained that the Obama administration didn't use “radical Islam” to describe the ideology of the terrorists who attacked the office of the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo because the United States' war against terror “requires at least the tacit support of many radical Muslims” :
Both [the Bush and Obama] administrations have said repeatedly since Sept. 11, 2001, that radical Islam is not Islamic.
There is a reason for this: The long war against radical Islamic terrorists requires at least the tacit support of many radical Muslims.
It sounds strange. But as Emile Nakhleh, who was one of the CIA's top experts on political Islam between 1993 and 2006, told me, there was a recognition following the 9/11 attacks inside the Bush administration that many supporters of the Wahhabi strain of Islam favored by al-Qaeda and its allies were not plotting attacks on the West. In some cases, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the purveyors of Wahhabism were longstanding American allies. “There was the two-ton elephant in the room, and that is Saudi Arabia,” Nakhleh said.
So Bush for the most part opted instead to talk about the enemy as “evildoers” or “extremists,” even though on some occasions he went off message. It's why Bush's second secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, condemned as “offensive” the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in 2006 after they sparked riots across the Muslim world. [Bloomberg View, 1/19/15]
Former State Dept. Counterterrorism Official: Trumpeting “Islamic Radicalism” Would Damage Ally Relationships And Do More Harm Than Good. Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's top counterterrorism official from 2009-2012, said that throwing around the phrase “Islamic radicalism” would damage to efforts to combat terror by undermining relationships with allies:
“Our allies against ISIS in the region are out there every day saying, 'This is not Islam,'” said Mr. Benjamin, now at Dartmouth. “We don't want to undermine them. Any good it would do to trumpet 'Islamic radicalism' would be overwhelmed by the damage it would do to those relationships.” [The New York Times, 2/18/15]
Foreign Policy: Efforts To Address Terrorism By Focusing On Islam Have Backfired. Foreign Policy explained that programs that have attempted to combat terrorism by focusing exclusively on Islamic extremism have failed. Britain launched “an Islamic-centric counter-extremism effort” in 2005 called the “Prevent Program” that, according to Foreign Policy, “backfired by alienating Muslims and making cooperation with law enforcement officials even more difficult.” [Foreign Policy, 2/17/15]
The Week: Describing Terrorism As Islamic Alienates Allies And Dignifies Terrorists. In a February 18 post forThe Week, Marc Ambinder wrote, “Calling terrorism Islamic terrorism ... doesn't serve the purposes of a president who has to work with countries that have a studiously complicated relationship with the purveyors of terror,” meaning it could backfire by offending and alienating countries the president needs cooperation from in order to fight terrorism. Ambinder also noted that Obama's strategy behind not using the term “Islamic terrorism” is to avoid “dignify[ing] that movement by calling it what it calls itself.” Ambinder added that “Osama bin Laden himself said that Obama's refusal to join the language fight made it more difficult to generate recruits.” [The Week, 2/18/15]
And Former President George W. Bush Repeatedly Made Clear Terrorism Does Not Represent The Islamic Faith
Bush: “We Do Not Fight Islam, We Fight Against Evil.” In November 2001 President Bush delivered remarks to the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism during which he stated that, “The head of the 22 nation Arab League rejected the claims of the terrorist leader and said he -- Osama bin Laden -- 'doesn't speak in the name of Arabs and Muslims.'” Bush went on to declare that “All of us here today understand this: We do not fight Islam, we fight against evil.” [White House Archives, 11/6/01]
Bush: “The Face Of Terror Is Not The True Faith Of Islam.” During remarks given at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C in the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Bush assured Americans that attacks committed by Al Qaeda were not representative of the Islamic faith:
BUSH: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace, they represent evil and war. [White House Archives, 9/17/01]
Bush: “The Terrorists Are Traitors To Their Own Faith, Trying, In Effect, To Hijack Islam Itself.” In an address to a joint session of Congress following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush again made clear that the terrorists who attacked the United States “practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics -- a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.” Bush spoke directly to the difference between extremist terrorists and Muslims:
BUSH: I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. (Applause.) The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them. [White House Archives, 9/20/01]