Mislabeling Terrorism Doesn’t Make Us Safer
March 3, 2017
The wordsmithing game in Washington, D.C. is a refined art. From the definition of “is” to what constitutes a recusal, it’s clear that politicians rarely mean what they appear to say.
For years, Republicans bashed President Barack Obama for refusing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorists” when referring to the ongoing war on extremists. Even Obama’s reference to ISIL, instead of ISIS, became a point of disagreement with Republicans.
Many critics claimed Obama refused to use those three words because he was secretly supporting terrorists, or he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, or, as other ridiculous conspiracy theories claimed, Obama was a closet Muslim that couldn’t call out his own religion as antithetical to American values.
But Obama maintained that he refused to taint an entire world religion of over 1.6 billion followers just because a few thousand radical militant terrorists have used it to justify their slaughter of innocent men, women, and children in various countries.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly skewered Hillary Clinton for also refusing to use the misguided term when talking about fighting terrorism. Just about every Trump surrogate criticized Clinton for refusing to use the term even though she said eventually relented and used radical jihadism, radical Islamism, and radical terrorism interchangeably.
Donald Trump joyfully used the term every chance he had, and seemed to revel in the way it offended Democrats, liberals, intellectuals, and especially the media, his favorite target.
Trump’s new National Security Advisor, three-star Army General H.R. McMaster, however, recently suggested that using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” only serves to alienate Muslims the U.S. needs to work with to defeat the ideology behind groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, and makes winning the war on terrorism more difficult.
General McMaster even tried to persuade Trump to remove that term from his speech this week to Congress, arguing that terrorists are not representative of Islam.
Not surprisingly, though, Trump used the term in his speech anyway, disregarding the advice of a general named by Time Magazine in 2014 as one of its 100 most influential people in the world, saying he “might be the 21st Century Army’s pre-eminent warrior-thinker”.
But, if Trump is determined to use religious terms to define the extreme behavior of terrorists, then he should be consistent and use similar terms for domestic extremists currently threatening the lives of Americans.
In recent months, acts of violence and vandalism have struck fear among African-Americans, Latinos, and, more recently, Jewish communities throughout the country.
The growth of racist groups in the United States in recent years has been studied by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national organization dedicated to social justice issues. Instead of declining, as they had over the past 30 years, hate groups are on the rise.
Expansion among KKK groups, especially, has alarmed many community leaders that thought the days of racial discrimination were behind us. Hate groups have traditionally attacked along racial lines, but in the past few years, have also struck out against Muslims, ethnic immigrants, and Latinos, regardless of their actual legal status.
The basis for these hate groups has traditionally been white Protestant beliefs, which has included violent attacks against Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics, and, increasingly, Muslims.
The KKK has referred to itself as a Christian organization, claiming to preserve a country based on religious principles, even though its hatred clearly doesn’t represent Christians in general.
Extremists use their twisted views of Islam to defend their terrorism. That’s not what 1.6 billion other Muslims believe.
Similarly, the hate groups that terrorize blacks, Jews, Latinos, and Muslims in the U.S. claim to be Christians, but clearly they don’t represent the vast majority of Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, and even casual church-goers in America.
But to misuse “radical Islamist terrorists” to refer to extremists is the same as calling the KKK “radical Christian terrorists”.
God-fearing Christians everywhere would be just as offended by that term as peaceful Muslims are by the unfair characterization of their religion.
Trump should listen to his highly respected National Security Advisor and modify his language to help make the world safer, not even more dangerous.
Terrorism, in all its forms, is the enemy of us all.