"From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say," Clinton said on CNN. "And it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. ... Whether you call it radical jihadism, radical Islamism -- I think they mean the same thing. I'm happy to say either. But what I won't do — because I think it is dangerous for our efforts to defeat this threat — is to demonize and demagogue and declare war on an entire religion. That plays right into ISIS's hands."
The below post, from November after the terrorist attacks in Paris, runs through why Obama continues to avoid the term and the arguments for and against it.
In the hours and days after the Paris terrorist attacks, the debate among presidential hopefuls in America centered not on how to respond, but how to handle refugees — and, of course, how to describe the people who comprise the Islamic State.
President Obama has pointedly avoided calling the organization "radical Islam," favoring language that describes its members as "jihadists" or "extremists" instead. Republicans say his rhetoric is yet another example of how Obama (and by extension, Democrats) fail to understand the terrorist threats facing the United States.
That argument has spilled over into the 2016 presidential race, with Hillary Rodham Clinton defending Obama's choice of words in Saturday's Democratic presidential debate and Republicans criticizing her for it in the days since.
The fact that there's a vigorous back-and-forth over how to describe the Islamic State in the wake of Paris doesn't surprise Nicholas Heras, a Middle East expert at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security. "It's a very delicate discussion in terms of the psychology and also the practicality," he said. In other words: There's lots of room for nuance and interpretation.
Here are three arguments for and against calling the Islamic State "radical Islamists:"
Argument No. 1: Does this debate even matter?
Yes: To understand — and to be able to say out loud — the religious underpinnings of an organization is to better understand that organization. And just look at what the Islamic State calls itself: "Islam" is in the name. The people who devote themselves to this terrorist organization do so in the context of their Islamic faith, no matter how perverted of a form of faith that might be. (And by the way, the terrorists argue they're following the purest form of Islam.) In not publicly acknowledging who really makes up the Islamic State, we miss an important piece of that puzzle.
"I know what Islamic terrorism is. And that's what we are fighting with ISIS, al-Qaeda, all of the other groups, and that's what our focus should be on," former Florida governor Jeb Bush said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "And I think it's more than acceptable just to call it for what it is and then organize an effort to destroy it."
No: No one's denying Muslims make up the Islamic State. But focusing our efforts on how to describe the Islamic State is a distraction from talking about what to actually do about the Islamic State. We could describe it as group of people who control one-third of Iraq and Syria, and it wouldn't change our resolve to defeat it.
"We are at war with violent extremism," Clinton said at Saturday's debate. "We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression. And yes, we are at war with those people, but I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush."
Argument No. 2: Are we being too politically correct by not saying "radical Islam?"
Yes: Okay, we get it, Obama and Clinton. You don't want to offend the larger Muslim community by implying they're all terrorists. But in your attempts to not step on anyone's toes, you're potentially binding yourself from being able to make the tough choices needed to defeat this threat.
"That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
No: Even President George W. Bush took care to differentiate between Islam and the terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001. "Islam is peace," he said outside a Washington mosque in the days after the World Trade Center fell.
"[T]hat was one of the real contributions, despite all the other problems, that George W. Bush made," Clinton said Saturday, "after 9/11 when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, we are not at war with Islam or Muslims."
Argument No. 3: Will calling the Islamic State "radical Islam" help us defeat it?
Yes: Heras summed up this side's argument accordingly: Acknowledging the root of the movement allows us to have an honest discussion with our partners in the Muslim world about the ideological trends of Islam that lead to the rise of these groups. Otherwise we risk sweeping the real problem under the rug and continuing the same failed policies that led to the Paris attack in the first place.
"By not labeling it radical Islam or Islamist, you're not doing the full analytical inquiry justice," Heras said, again, channeling the argument.
No: It's counterproductive. We lose much-needed friends in the Muslim world by saying something that could be misconstrued as antagonizing an entire religion. Calling the enemy radical Islamists is also a great recruiting tool for the enemy, says Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution and author of "Temptations of Power," a book about Islamist movements. It affirms they're part of the mainstream while also driving a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims.
"That's what the Islamic State wants us to do: Divide the West and Muslims so they can say, 'There's no home for you there,'" Hamid said.