The Corner

National Security & Defense

Why the Words ‘Radical Islam’ Matter

Hillary Clinton’s refusing to say that we are in a struggle with “radical Islam” is hardly news – but on ABC’s This Week on Sunday morning, she tried to explain it. The result is a handy roadmap to the liberal view of Islam.

Here’s the relevant part of the exchange:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: 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?

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 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. . . .

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.

Even if such an explanation were plausible, it is belied by Clinton’s own description of the terrorists’ ambitions as “jihadist.” Jihad is an Islamic concept. Terrorists don’t — can’t — have “jihadist ambitions,” then “use” Islam to explain them. The Islam comes first.

The liberal mind cannot take this claim seriously, though, because it cannot take seriously the claim of religion as an animating force in human lives. As Clinton says: “There are radicals, people who believe all kinds of things, in every religion in the world.” In other words, religions are not systems of belief that shape peoples convictions and actions, but large social clubs, and you’re as likely to have a fringe of lunatics among Muslims in Aleppo as you are among Indianapolis Methodists and Omaha Rotary members and players on the PGA Tour. Religion is not uniquely affective — ergo it cannot be the “root cause” of Syed Farook’s decision to shoot up a conference center; for that we have to look to unemployment, or “Islamophobia,” or climate change.

Nonsense. 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.

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