In a recent speech, Hillary Clinton argued that using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” would set us back in the war on terrorism “by alienating partners we need by our side.” She prefers to criticize “radical jihadism” (in that speech) or just “jihadists” (as at the last Democratic debate). This position, I wrote two weeks ago, makes no sense:
Everyone knows the religion with which jihad is associated. She didn’t call it a “radical Crusaderist ideology.” She’s talking about a subset of Muslims, just as the Republicans who talk about “radical Islamic terrorists” are.
If using the word “Islam” in the vicinity of “terrorism” is a bad idea, then so is using the word “jihadism” to mean, well, Islamic terrorism.
Over the weekend, Clinton’s position on this terminological issue–an issue in which, remember, she sees strategic importance–became even less comprehensible. Here’s the relevant portion of the ABC transcript of her interview with George Stephanopoulos, with some small corrections and improvements by me:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You put — you’ve 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?
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 but…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though the qualifier “radical” is there?
CLINTON: No, because, look, that — 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 are 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.
So to recap Hillary Clinton’s view on this matter: She is at one with the Republicans she is criticizing in seeing that a subset of people who identify as Muslims, rather than all or most such people, are our enemies; but it is worth spending some time avoiding the strategic error of saying “radical Islamic” when we should be saying “radical Islamist.” We are going to alienate people needlessly if we use a hard “c” rather than an “st.” Maybe someone on her national-security team should reach out to ABC’s transcribers, who got it wrong, perhaps not seeing the crucial importance of this question.