Josh Earnest: Let's stop using "radical Islam" to describe terrorists

So here’s where we are now.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration doesn’t want to legitimize those terrorists or the “warped” view of Islam they hold. Also, Mr. Earnest said, the phrase “radical Islam” simply is not an accurate way to describe the enemies of the U.S., France and other nations across the globe.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a position where I’m repeating the justification they have cited that I think is illegitimate. They had invoked Islam to justify their attacks,” he told reporters. “I think what I’m trying to do is to describe to you what happened and what they did. These individuals are terrorists. … We have chosen not to use that label [of radical Islam] because it doesn’t seem to accurately describe what happened.”

This isn’t a case of Earnest winging it in response to an uncomfortable question. On Sunday, Chuck Todd reminded Eric Holder that France’s prime minister had recently said his nation is at war with radical Islam. Ours too, asked Todd? Holder’s reply:

Holder answered, “I would say that we are at war with terrorists who commit these heinous acts and who use Islam. They use a corrupted version of Islam to justify their actions. We are bound and determined to hold them accountable, to find them wherever they are, and then to try, as you indicated, to come up with ways in which we prevent young people who become attracted to this radical ideology from becoming members of these groups and perpetrating these heinous acts.”

Two days later, the White House appears to have excised the word “Islam” from this topic entirely, even when qualified by the word “radical.” That’s been a long time coming. It used to be that “radical Islam” was sufficient to distinguish jihadis from nonviolent Muslims; every now and then you’d catch a U.S. official tossing another qualifier or two into the phrase (“radical Islamic jihadism,” “radical extremist Islam”) just to drive the point home that whatever this is, it’s not Islam, okay? But lately it seems a decision was made somewhere towards the top of the Democratic food chain requiring total conceptual severance between jihadis and “Islam.” You saw it last week in Howard Dean’s aside that the Charlie Hebdo attackers were about as authentically Islamic as he is. Today you’re seeing it in Earnest insisting that the phrase “radical Islam” is still a touch too close to “Islam” for comfort.

What the White House thinks it’s achieving by taking this extra rhetorical step, I don’t know. The fact that the French, land of the so-called cheese-eating surrender monkeys, have no qualms about using the phrase while our own leadership hems and haws makes Earnest look that much more pathetic. More than that, it’s a reminder that the strongest impulse among America’s ruling class in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre has been to self-censor. The media, with rare exceptions like Fox News, won’t show the cover of the new issue; the White House suddenly is uncomfortable mentioning Islam at all in connection with terrorism. Ironically, I think this cycle of radical Muslims murdering people followed by ever greater official sensitivity to mainstream Muslims reinforces public perceptions that there’s a link between two rather than undermines them. Never did Americans hear the phrase “Islam means peace” as much as they did after radical Muslims knocked over the World Trade Center. Same with media self-censorship: Not until jihadis started burning embassies and machine-gunning cartoonists did American media collectively decide that “sensitivity” to the beliefs of mainstream Muslims was very important indeed. It’s one long, absurd good-cop, bad-cop routine made possible by America’s political and media elites, all of whom seem to think the real threat comes from non-Muslims who are angry at Muslim communities, not vice versa.

You would think, at a moment when Muslim political leaders are making noise about the radicals in their midst, America would want to lend its voice to the effort, not retreat into Orwellian doublespeak. Oh well. Tomorrow maybe Earnest will tell us whether the Egyptian clerics and Iranian propagandists who are already trying to paint a new bullseye on Charlie Hebdo’s back should be thought of as “radical Muslims” or not. Exit quotation: