Why the White House Won't Use France's Terminology of 'War Against Radical Islam'

White House press secretary Josh Earnest explained today why the U.S. won’t join France in declaring war on radical Islamists.

He also elaborated a bit on what the February summit on violent extremism will cover other than Islamic extremism.


“James von Brunn is somebody who in 2009, June of 2009, less than a mile from where we stand right now, went to the Holocaust Museum and shot a security guard in pursuit of some radical violent ideology,” Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing. “Back in 2012, an individual, Wade Michael Page, carried out an assault against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. It’s unclear to me exactly what ideology motivated him. But that is a pretty good example of somebody who has a violent extreme ideology and an ideology and extremist practices that are worth countering.”

“Let me just give you one other example that’s actually close to my heart. There’s an individual who shot up the Jewish Community Center in suburban Kansas City, that this is an individual who, again, subscribes to a warped ideology that he tried to use to justify this violent attack. And you know, those are a couple of examples on the kinds of — the kind of violent extremism that our summit is motivated to counter.”

He said the purpose of the summit will be “to work with state and local officials to talk about best practices, about some of things that they can do in their community, to make sure that individuals like this don’t succeed in carrying out these acts of violence in the name of a warped ideology.”

Earnest added that President Obama’s administration “has expended significant resources, energy and time to counter violent extremists who carry out acts of terror, based on their own warped view of Islam.”


“…The reason I described it as a warped view of Islam is because these kinds of attacks have been roundly condemned in very forceful terms by Muslim leaders across the country. What we’ve also seen is that al-Qaeda and its adherence and its affiliates have carried out terror acts all across the globe. And the majority of the victims of those attacks have been Muslims.”

He also referred to terrorists as “violent extremists who have sought to incite a religious war against Islam.”

The White House has declined to use the terminology employed by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who said Saturday, “It is a war against terrorism and radical Islam, against everything aimed at breaking solidarity, liberty and fraternity.”

“It does seem clear that these terrorists, let’s call them what they are, these terrorists are individuals who would like to cloak themselves in the veil of a particular religion,” Earnest explained.

“But based on the fact that the religious leaders of that religion have roundly condemned their actions, those religious leaders have indicated that their actions are entirely inconsistent with Islam,” he said, stressing again that the number of Muslim victims in terror attacks “is a pretty clear indication that this is not a matter of the world being at war with Islam.”

“The world and the United States, as we’ve discussed before in the context of ISIL, is at war with these individuals, these violent extremists who carry out these acts of terror and try to justify it by invoking this religion.”


So, Earnest concluded, the terrorists are not radical Islamists.

“We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it,” he said.

“The second is this is an act that was roundly condemned by Muslim leaders. Again, I’m describing to you the reasons why we have not chosen to use that label, because it doesn’t seem to accurately describe what had happened. But we also don’t want to be in a situation where we are legitimizing what we consider to be a completely illegitimate justification for this violence, this act of terrorism. Again, I’m not going to criticize anybody who chooses to use that label. That I’m talking about the way that we’re talking about this. And what we’re trying to do is be as specific and as accurate as possible in describing what exactly occurred.”


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