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Rhodes: ISIS Fight 'Will Be More Effective' Not Calling Them 'Religious Organization'

President Obama works on his speech to AIPAC with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes on March, 3, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told PBS that President Obama doesn’t use the term “radical Islam” because “we will be more effective in combating that ideology” of ISIS “if we don’t describe them as a religious organization.”

Rhodes said the concern after the Orlando nightclub attack, in which shooter Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS, is “how are we going to pursue a strategy that both defeats ISIL overseas, but also tries to combat an ideology that could prey upon a deeply disturbed individual like this, and lead them to do something as tragic as what we saw in Orlando.”

He said the point Obama was trying to make in his Tuesday speech outside of a National Security Council meeting “is that if we are engaging in policies or rhetoric that stigmatizes the entire Muslim-American community, that blames an entire faith for this terrible act of violence, that suggests in any way that we are at war with Islam we’re going to make that job much harder because, essentially, ISIL depends upon a narrative of a war between the United States and Islam to recruit.”

Host Charlie Rose asked if Obama “does believe that there is something happening called fundamental radical Islamic terrorism.”

“We believe that there is clearly a perversion of Islam from groups like ISIL. So, yes, they take Islam and they pervert it to their twisted ideology,” Rhodes replied. “They used it to justify the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims as well. And we have to combat both the organization of ISIL and that ideology.”

“We’ve had these debates about labels for some time, and we’ve been clear that we did not want to define ISIL, or al-Qaeda, or any other extremist group as speaking for Islam in any way. And we’ve avoid that terminology. The problem is, when you see that terminology taken to its logical end, if this is defined as a conflict that is inherently about religion that leads to policies like not allowing Muslims to enter the United States or policies of more excessive surveillance and denial of civil liberties to Muslim-Americans, as the president said today,” he continued.

“And that is what is so deserving is that ultimately, if we make decisions guided by fear, or by painting a very broad brush on our fellow Americans who happens to be Muslim, they will make the wrong decisions and do things that ultimately harmful to both our national fabric and to our national security.”

Rhodes added that even if you call it “radical Islam,” the “sun will come up the next day, ISIL will still there.”

“People may use different terminology, but the fact is, when you’re talking about who we’re at war with, we believe that we should define that as a war against terrorist networks, or against ISIL, or against al-Qaeda, not as war against a certain type of religious terminology because that has the potential to be interpreted and utilize by groups like ISIL as a means of saying, we are indeed at war with Islam, and they use that as a means of recruitment,” he said. “So we avoid that terminology and make it clear that we’re at war with terrorists.”