WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – President Barack Obama doesn't like it when he and his administration are vilified for not using the term "radical Islam." That much was clear June 14 after the president devoted a significant amount of a speech on counter-terrorism to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's criticism of his handling of the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Obama was speaking at the conclusion of a terrorism summit on ISIS (which he calls ISIL) at the U.S. Treasury Department. At the conclusion of the speech, he took on Trump – though without naming him – as well as other Republicans who have been critical of how the president has described terrorists and terror attacks.
That's the key, they tell us – we can't beat ISIL unless we call them 'radical Islamists.' What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.
Just hours after the terror attack on the Pulse nightclub, a gay bar in Orlando, early Sunday morning, in which ISIS-loyalist Omar Mateen killed 49 people, Trump took to social media with his characteristic politically incorrect style.
"Is President Obama going to finally mention that words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn't he should immediately resign in disgrace!" Trump said via Twitter.
And during an address on foreign policy and terrorism at St. Anselm College June 14, the New York billionaire blasted presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton – for months and despite so many attacks – repeatedly refused to even say the words 'radical Islam,' until I challenged her yesterday to say the words or leave the race," Trump said.
"However, Hillary Clinton – who has been forced to say the words today after policies she supports have caused us so much damage – still has no clue what radical Islam is, and won't speak honestly about what it is. She is in total denial, and her continuing reluctance to ever name the enemy broadcasts weakness across the world."
But in his response, Obama said whether or not the term is used is of little consequence in the fight against al-Qaeda, ISIS and other groups.
"That's the key, they tell us – we can't beat ISIL unless we call them 'radical Islamists.' What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction," Obama said.
The president added that he described how "extremist groups" have perverted Islam" with the use of terrorism from the early days of his presidency. He also said he had worked with allies to "reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world's great religions."
Obama said the use of the term serves no purpose in fighting against ISIS or other terror groups and its lack of use has not affected or degraded the U.S. military's ability to pursue and kill terrorists.
"So if someone seriously thinks that we don't know who we're fighting, if there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we've taken off the battlefield," Obama said.
Obama also said there is "no magic in the phrase 'radical Islam.'"
"It's a political talking point; it's not a strategy," the president said. "And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people; that they speak for Islam. That's their propaganda. That's how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion – then we're doing the terrorists' work for them."
Obama also said the kind of "yapping" being done by Trump is particularly dangerous because it cuts Muslims off from the remainder of U.S. society and threatens those who are immigrating to America. The president said he rejected the notion that the entire religious community is complicit in terrorism.
"Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer – they were all U.S. citizens," Obama said, adding that fear of Muslims will lead the nation toward the oppression of Muslim Americans.
"We've gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear – and we came to regret it. We've seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens. And it has been a shameful part of our history," the president said.