Radical Islam v. Jihadi Radicalism

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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.

  • Glenn Harrell

    Fair enough, except.The Qur’an does require jihad of all Muslims, though not a lifestyle of combat.
    Also, the Christian, Jewish, Shinto, Buddhist or any other version of “radical” is not seeking to return us all to first century exactness.
    Christians rise up against Jim Jones, KKK, Skinheads and the like.

    In the same way, a tiny minority of the worlds 1 billion Muslims is casting a huge shadow over them all. Where is the Muslim outrage against the jihadists/radicals/murderers/ who pretend to do their evil deeds as a holy sacrament to the end of all being as moral as them?

    “The goal of Islam is to rule the entire world and submit all of mankind to the faith of Islam. Any nation and power in this world that tries to get in the way of that goal, Islam will fight and destroy.” -Bernard Lewis The Crisis of Islam

    And I thought they were just trying to get us to put away wine, women and song–then behave ourselves–or else. What role did Adultery play in the Paris attacks?

  • Leo Sprietsma

    It would seem to be in the interest of all Muslims to eradicate this ISIS perversion that puts them all into disrepute.

    But I thank God daily that we have President Obama in office who has the good sense , so far, of keeping us out of any more wars!

  • Jack

    Mark, every term is problematic. “Jihadi radicalism” wrongly assumes the word “jihad” only means external holy war against non-Muslims or those deemed insufficiently Muslim. In fact, it also refers to the war within a person against evil in their heart. One can say it is an exceedingly narrow and biased view of the word, “jihad.”

    But the problem with any term that excludes Islam, Islamic, or Islamist is that goes way too far in the opposite direction. It seeks to deny the obvious, that the radicalism we’re fighting somehow just dropped down from Mars and has no historical, theological, or logical connection to Islamic movements of any kind. Nonsense. While one can make a good case that terrorism is condemned in the Koran, to call Islam a peace-loving religion, as W did after 9/11, is pure fantasy. Even if the Koran is anti-terrorism, it’s for holy wars waged to advance the faith.

  • Larry

    “Also, the Christian, Jewish, Shinto, Buddhist or any other version of “radical” is not seeking to return us all to first century exactness.”

    Christian and Jewish ones certainly do. But they are mostly not willing or capable of using violence to force others to do so. Shinto radicals invented using suicide bombers as a military force. Buddhist radicals have been using their religion as an excuse to seize power and attack the rights of Hindus in Sri Lanka for decades.