The One Phrase at the GOP Debate That Could Undermine the Fight Against ISIS

December 15th 2015

Among the most common phrases spoken at the Republican presidential debate on Tuesday, "radical Islam" has ranked at the top. And there's a serious problem linked to that loaded phrase that could undermine our efforts against terrorist organizations such as ISIS.

As Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said at a presidential debate last month, using the phrase "radical Islam" isn't "particularly helpful" to building a relationship with Muslim countries. It is actually counterproductive, promoting Islamophobia and alienating the majority of the Muslim population, which does not support terrorism.

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Yet the phrase, and President Barack Obama's refusal to say it, has remained a point of contention amongst the Republican candidates. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) railed against President Obama for refusing to describe the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino as "radical Islam," arguing that political correctness detracts from efforts to curb extremism.

Several presidential candidates, including GOP front-runner Donald Trump, called for an end to "radical Islam," referring to ISIS. But while some have blamed America's political correct culture for Obama's reluctance to describe these organizations as "radical Islam," there's a more complicated rationale at hand.

Using the phrase plays directly into the agenda of terrorist organization when Western leaders group together moderate and extremist Muslims, Vox reports. By suggesting that Muslims, or people who practice Islam, are part of a radical institution, politicians put undue distance between "us" and "them."

"I think that for us to be successful in fighting this scourge, it's very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we're looking for—order, peace, prosperity," Obama told CNN earlier this year. "The Middle East and South Asia are sort of ground zero for us needing to win back hearts and minds, particularly when it comes to young people."

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Asked whether he agreed with his brother—former president George W. Bush—Republican candidate Jeb Bush said he agreed that "Islam is peace" but that "the main thing we should be focused on should be a strategy to destroy ISIS."

"We can't disassociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims," Bush said, appearing to walk back an earlier statement in which he referred to radical Islam. "If we do it in union, we will be far more successful."

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