The Corner

The I-Word and the J-Word

Hillary Clinton said last week, “The obsession in some quarters with a clash of civilization, or repeating the specific words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ isn’t just a distraction, it gives these criminals, these murderers more standing than they deserve. It actually plays into their hands by alienating partners we need by our side.” She prefers to call our enemy “radical jihadist ideology.”

Over at Bloomberg View, I contend that Clinton’s argument doesn’t make any sense. While I was writing it, I came across this passage from a 2009 speech by John Brennan, then an adviser to President Obama:

Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against “jihadists.” Describing terrorists in this way—using a legitimate term, “jihad,” meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal—risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself. And this is why President Obama has confronted this perception directly and forcefully in his speeches to Muslim audiences, declaring that America is not and never will be at war with Islam.

Clinton’s terminology is vulnerable, in short, to exactly the same objections as the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” is. That’s not terribly surprising, considering that she is using “jihadist” to mean “Islamist terrorist.” What she is doing is presenting nonsense as a badge of intellectual and moral sophistication in foreign policy.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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