White House Still Refuses To Say "Radical Islam"

Conn Carroll
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Posted: Jan 13, 2015 2:50 PM
White House Still Refuses To Say "Radical Islam"

President Obama has pointedly refused to use the phrase "radical Islam" and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was pressed to explain why Tuesday.

"These are individuals who are terrorists," Earnest explained to NPR's Mara Liasson who had asked why the White House chose "not to associate" itself with French President Francois Hollande's assertion that France was at war with radical Islam. "And what they did is they tried to invoke their own distorted deviant view of Islam to try and justify them," Earnest continued. "And I think that is completely illegitimate, and what we should do is call it what it is. And it is an act of terror and it is one we roundly condemn."

"But the leader of France, your ally in this effort," Liasson countered, "has put a name on this ideology, which he calls radical Islam. You have bent over backwards to not ever say that. There must be a reason."

"And I guess I am doing my best to try to explain to you what that is," Earnest responded. "The first is, accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism. And they later tried to justify that act terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it."

"The second," Earnest continued, "is this is an act that was roundly condemned by muslim leaders. I'm describing to you the reasons why we have not chosen to use that label because it doesn't seem to accurately describe what had happened. We also don't want to be in a situation where we are legitimizing what we consider to be a completely illegitimate justification for this violence. I am not going to criticize anybody who chooses to use that label. I'm talking about the way we are trying to talk about this and we are trying to be as specific and accurate as possible in describing what exactly occurred."

But is that exactly what occurred? Did the two men that assassinated the journalists at Charlie Hedbo choose the magazine at random and then, after the fact as Earnest suggests, try and justify their actions by invoking Islam? 

Did the man who took hostages at a Paris grocery store just happen to pick a Jewish store by random, and then later as the White House position posits, justify his acts by invoking Islam?

Or did a radical version of Islam, one embraced by tens of millions muslims world wide, influence these men before they acted? Is this same version of Islam inspiring muslims all over the world to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State? Did this same version of Islam inspire the 9/11 attacks?

The White House is right about two things. First, labels matter. That's why Earnest is bending over backwards not to use the "radical Islam" label.

Second, accuracy matters. Are young men seeking to terrorize and kill and only then, as the White House suggests, later looking for an ideology to justify what they already did? Or is there an ideology that is inspiring and motivating these attacks in the first place? And if so what is its name?

You can read Earnest's entire exchange with Liasson below.

LIASSON: There have been a lot of questions raised about why you have chosen not to associate yourself with the language that was used by the French president when he said we are at war with radical Islam. And instead you have chosen a formulation where you say we want to counter individuals who commit violence based on their warped view of Islam. Is the reason you don't want to call it radical Islam or use the word war because you are afraid of playing into the extremists desires to incite a religious war on Islam? Is that the reason you've gone to great lengths to come up with this different formulation? 

EARNEST: Well Mara there are certainly, it does seem clear, that these terrorists, let's call them what they are, these terrorists, are individuals who would like to cloak themselves in the veil of a particular religion. But based on the fact that the religious leaders of that religion have roundel condemned their actions, those religious leaders have indicated that their actions are entirely inconsistent with Islam. I think the fact that the majority of victims of terror attacks that are carried out by al Qaeda and adherents to their particular brand of violence, that the majority of them are muslim, I think is a pretty clear indication that this is not a matter of the world being at war with Islam. 

The world and the United States, as we've discussed in the context of ISIL, is at war with these individuals, these violent extremists, who carry out these acts of terror and try to justify it by invoking this religion. 

LIASSON: But the leader of France, your ally in this effort, has put a name on this ideology, which he calls radical Islam. You have bent over backwards to not ever say that. There must be a reason.

EARNEST :I think the reason is twofold. One is, I certainly wouldn't want to be in a position where I am repeating the justification that they have cited that I think is completely illegitimate. That they have invoked Islam to try to justify their attacks. 

LIASSON: Calling it radical Islam, you feel, would be playing into their hand?

EARNEST: Well I think what I am trying to do is I am trying to describe to you what happened and what they did. These are individuals who are terrorists. And what they did is they tried to invoke their own distorted deviant view of Islam to try and justify them. And I think that is completely illegitimate, and what we should do is call it what it is. And it is an act of terror and it is one we roundly condemn. It is an act of terror that was roundly condemned by muslim leaders across the globe. There are reports that at least one of the victims of the attack in Paris was actually a muslim. We know that at least one of the hostages is in the kosher grocery store was a muslim. And one of the things I think that has been particularly inspiring about the march we spent a lot of time talking about yesterday is the kind of solidarity that we saw among the French population. This is a diverse country but we saw French Jews marching with French Christians, and French Muslims in a sign of solidarity to condemn these terror acts and to demonstrate that that country will not retreat in the face of that kind of violence 

LIASSON: But other of your allies have described the ideology that you call a warped view of Islam by calling it radical Islam. They are not saying we are at war with Islam. They agree with you totally in every word you just said. But they are calling the ideology, the "warped view," that these people adhere to by a name. And it seems that the White House has gone to great lengths to avoid ever calling it anything other than a warped view, and I'm wondering is there a reason for that.

EARNEST: And I guess I am doing my best to try to explain to you what that is. The first is, accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism. And they later tried to justify that act terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it. 

The second is, this is an act that was roundly condemned by muslim leaders. I'm describing to you the reasons why we have not chosen to use that label because it doesn't seem to accurately describe what had happened. We also don't want to be in a situation where we are legitimizing what we consider to be a completely illegitimate justification for this violence. I am not going to criticize anybody who chooses to use that label. I'm talking about the way we are trying to talk about this and we are trying to be as specific and accurate as possible in describing what exactly occurred.