For several weeks now, a narrative has been building about the President’s supposed “refusal” to use the phrase “radical Islam” in relation to ISIS, instead using more detailed descriptions of the relationship between groups like ISIS and the religion they claim to represent. The idea is that the President can’t defeat ISIS if he doesn’t use this special magic phrase, even though he and his administration have consistently detailed ISIS’ ideology, including the religious texts from which they claim to draw inspiration.
In fact, Attorney General Eric Holder addressed what he called the “obsession” with this particular phrase, and quipped “If Fox didn’t talk about this, they would have nothing else to talk about, it seems to me.”
However, this particular narrative was actually started by reporters from Fox News and NPR, and the underlying premise, that the Obama administration is somehow blind to the religious aspect of this conflict, has taken root all over the media. At Wednesday’s White House daily briefing, I asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest why they don’t just go ahead and use the phrase once in a while, just to make the noise stop:
Tommy Christopher: “The narrative is that if you don’t use the secret password ‘radical Islam,’ you can’t possibly defeat ISIS. and I’ve heard this spread out beyond conservative circles, and I’m wondering, because I’ve heard you describe, in so many words, what is radical Islam… Has there been any thought to just disarming this whole thing by throwing the phrase in, to, maybe the President’s remarks, even if it’s in a sentence to make clear the distinction you’ve been trying to make? Stop giving them something to hit against, just say it, ‘Yeah, radical Islam, and it’s not all of Islam.'”
Josh Earnest: “I’m not particularly concerned about the flak. I just want to make sure we’re pursuing the most effective strategy. And to anyone who wants to evaluate that, they can take a look at the way Osama bin Laden himself described the state of al-Qaeda, and his frustration that our ability to prevent him from succeeding in declaring a religious war between Islam and the west was frustrating its efforts to advance his radical agenda.”
The reasons for this administration’s preferences in speaking about ISIS couldn’t be more clear, as they also want to avoid any perception among the world’s Muslims that the United States is waging war with their entire religion. As Earnest said, it is the White House’s calculation that this is worth the criticism they’re taking. That may very well be, but it seems like the administration is misjudging just how widespread this narrative is becoming. It is ironic that a group so distasteful of political correctness is trying to enforce its own preferred nomenclature, but the rest of the media is beginning to play along, too.