Why People Should Avoid Using the Phrase ‘Radical Islam’

Posted on December 9, 2016 by



0621_obama-orlando-getty-1000x685        ‘Radical Islam’ is a phrase commonly debated about since 9/11. What does it mean? What is it? Who are we talking about when we say the phrase? Can we use the phrase? Should we use the phrase? My articles helped answer these questions.

Many of my sources suggest that people should not use the term “radical Islamic terrorist” because it affects how one processes the phrase. The adjective, radical, is usually ignored by most. For example, “I really want fluffy mash potatoes.” We process the speaker mainly as thinking about mash potatoes, not mash potatoes with the particular quality of being fluffy (1).

Lets break down the words. “Islam” is a religion whose 1.6 billion followers worldwide, with most living in Asia, observe many customs and traditions. “Radical” can mean something very different or against tradition, or be defined as extreme views and practices (3). Radical Islam is a kind of Islam, therefore Islam is modified in the context but not redefined into something else because of the word “radical” (1). Will McCants, a Brookings scholar, told The Washington Post that “every bit of that phrase is analytically unhelpful. Is this the wine-drinking Islam of the poets? The court Islam of the caliph? What kind of Islam are you even talking about?” (3). Hopefully you can realize the phrase is complicated and unclear.

When “radical” is attached to the word “Islam” it is difficult for many non-Muslims to differentiate the two words (4). According to a 2014 Pew poll, 38 percent of Americans personally know someone who is Muslim, so most have little first hand knowledge to go on (3). Therefore they make their own assumptions and opinions based off of media and other people, which is most likely unreliable. Unfortunately, most of us need to be reminded that Islam is a religion of peace, not violence (1). “They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists … We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” said Obama (2). During a town hall he explained that he objects to the term because the U.S. must be careful not to lump “murderers” in with billions of peaceful Muslims around the world. “These are people who kill children, kill Muslims, take sex slaves – there’s no religious rationale that would justify in any way any of the things that they do” (6).

I will admit this isn’t something that is easy to fix. In modern American English, “radical” can mean both “extreme” and “genuine” but only by extension. Yes, it does sound crazy, but the “radical” Islamist considers himself as the “true” Muslim (1). However that is not the only cause. People in the media make the phrase more negative then it already seems. Donald Trump campaigned anti-Muslim policy proposals. Mr. Cruz urged refusing Syrian refugees if they are Muslim. Ben Carson suggested that Muslims should be barred from the presidency. All of them often invoked “radical Islam” at the same time. Ted Cruz also said “You cannot fight and win a war on radical Islamic terrorism if you’re unwilling to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ “ (3). After the Orlando shooting Trump blamed Muslim Americans for failing to warn the government about the plans and even hinted that Obama had a secret plan that would allow him to ignore terrorism. He argued that it’s impossible to fix the problem of terrorism if we refuse to call it what it (5). Martin Medhurst, a professor of rhetoric and communication at Baylor University, defended Obama and said “By refusing to say ‘radical Islamic terrorism’, Obama is trying to create a reality where all the world’s great religions are on the same side,” (2). After Obama said “ISIL is not Islamic” in a national address, White House press secretary Josh Earnest supported him. “They are not Islamic, no religion condones the killing or terrorizing of innocent individuals, certainly not the religion of Islam” Earnest said (2).

The phrase suggests religion is the core issue. “Radical Islam” practically sounds like “Islam” alone at this point (1). Labeling ISIS “radical Islam,” in some viewpoints, legitimizes the groups claims to represent an entire religion, when actually most of its victims and enemies are themselves Muslim (3). We as people must resist overgeneralization, not only for this reason, but because it makes us better human beings. We must avoid the use of the phrase in order to save members of a worldwide religion from suffering the consequences of the actions done by a small group of amoral true believers. By saying we are fighting “terrorists” instead of “radical Islam”, we show that we are better than those who wish to harm us (1). Those who despise the President for not saying “radical Islam” would probably be unsatisfied with “violent Islam” as well. Mainly for the reason that is doesn’t sound like an insult and they need to feel like they won the competition. However, it is important to know that neither definition will change the minds of terrorists (1). Just like the President said, “Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away” (1).“The way we’re going to win this battle is not by betraying our ideals” (6). Word choice will not win or lose this battle for us.

Works Cited

John McWhorter, “The big problem with calling it ‘radical Islam’,” CNN, 7/11/2016 (http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/14/opinions/dont-call-it-radical-islam-john-mcwhorter/)

Jon Greenberg, “War of words: The fight over ‘radical Islamic terrorism’,” PolitiFact, 12/11/2016 (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/dec/11/war-words-fight-over-radical-islamic-terrorism/)

Max Fisher, “When a Phrase Takes On New Meaning: ‘Radical Islam,’ Explained,” The New York Times, 6/16/2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/17/world/when-a-phrase-takes-on-new-meaning-radical-islam-explained.html?_r=0)

Unknown author, “What Does ‘Radical Islam’ Mean?” Here & Now, 6/21/2016 (http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2016/06/21/radical-islam-meaning)

Unknown author, “Why We’re Debating the Term ‘Radical Islam’ in the Wake of Orlando,” The Huffington Post, 6/17/2016 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kicker/why-were-debating-the-ter_b_10488686.html)

William Cummings, “Why Obama won’t say ‘radical Islamic terrorist’,” USA Today, 9/29/2016 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/09/28/obama-town-hall/91245328/)

Posted in: Islam