Republicans say radical Islam, Democrats say jihadi radicalism. Let’s call the whole war off.
The war started after Saturday’s Democratic debate in Des Moines, during which CBS host John Dickerson asked Hillary Clinton whether she agreed with GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio’s statement that last week’s attacks in Paris “showed that we are at war with radical Islam.” When Clinton said no, she didn’t think we were at war with Islam and Dickerson corrected her characterization of the Rubio quote, she responded that it was important to differentiate “Islamists who clearly are also jihadists” from other Muslims.
That was one of the real contributions — despite all the other problems — that George W. Bush made after 9/11, when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, “We are not at war with Islam or Muslims. We are at war with violent extremism. 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 that I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush.
Later in the debate, she called on Turkey and the Gulf States to “make up their minds. Are they going to stand with us against this kind of jihadi radicalism or not?”
Martin O’Malley concurred. “I believe calling it what it is, is to say radical jihadis, that’s to call what it is,” he said. “But John, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that all of our Muslim-American neighbors in this country are somehow our enemies here.”
Since then, there’s been a whole lot of Republican tweeting going on. The RNC: “Hillary refuses to say we are at war with “radical Islam.” Jeb Bush: “Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism.” Carly Fiorina: “We need a President who will see and speak and act on the truth…Hillary Clinton will not call this Islamic terrorism. I will.” Mike Huckabee: “You’re all grown up now. You can do it. Three words. Ten syllables. Say it with me: “Radical Islamic terrorism.”
And the never-to-be-outdone Donald Trump: “When will President Obama issue the words RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM? He can’t say it, and unless he will, the problem will not be solved!”
So what’s wrong with a war on jihadi radicalism? Doesn’t it do a better job of identifying the attackers in question than George W. Bush’s War on Terror? Sure, but “radical Islam” moves us further down the road towards considering Islam itself to be the enemy — towards the view that Islam is by its nature “a religion of violence,” as the latest article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali proclaims.
All three Abrahamic religions have hegemonic traditions that from time to time lead latter-day followers to commit acts of violence in their name. The war for the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible lies behind acts of violence on the West Bank by Jewish extremists. Crusades and pogroms lie behind acts of violence against blacks and Jews and abortion providers by Christian extremists. Yet imagine the outrage if their opponents undertook a War on Radical Judaism or a War on Radical Christianity.
Jihad is the Islamic term for armed struggle against unbelievers. Muslims who embrace it call themselves jihadis. “Jihadi radicalism” should be good enough for us.