The White House won't be calling jihadists adherents to "radical Islam." At least, that's the reasonable take away from this extraordinary exchange the White House press secretary had today with a reporter:
Q I just want to go back to your statement about the extremists want to incite a religious war against Islam and they failed. There have been a lot of questions raised about why you have chosen not to associate yourself with the language that was used by the French President when he said we’re at war with radical Islam, and instead you have chosen a formulation where you say you want to capture individuals who commit violence based on their warped view of Islam. Is the reason you don’t want to call it “radical Islam” or use the word “war” because you’re afraid of playing into the extremists’ desires to incite a religious war on Islam? Is that the reason you’ve gone to great lengths to come up with this different formulation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mara, there certainly -- 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. 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. I think the fact that the majority of victims of terror attacks that are carried out by al Qaeda and adherents to their particular brand of violence, that the majority of them are Muslim I think 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.
Q Right. But the leader of France, your ally in this effort, has put a name on this ideology, which he calls “radical Islam.” You have bent over backwards to not ever say that. There must be a reason.
MR. EARNEST: I think the reason is twofold. One is I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a position where I’m repeating the justification that they have cited that I think is completely illegitimate, right? That they have invoked Islam to try to justify their attacks.
Q But to call it radical Islam you feel would be playing into their hands.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to describe to you what happened and what they did. These are individuals who are terrorists. And what they did was they tried to invoke their own distorted deviant view of Islam to try to justify them. And I think that is completely illegitimate. And what we should do is we should call it what it is. And it’s an act of terror, and it’s one that we roundly condemn. It’s an act of terror that was roundly condemned by Muslim leaders across the globe.
There are reports that at least one of the victims of the attack in Paris was actually a Muslim. We know that at least one of the hostages in the kosher grocery store was a Muslim. And one of the things I think that has been particularly inspiring about the march that we spent a lot of time talking about yesterday is the kind of solidarity that we saw among the French population. This is a diverse country. But we saw French Jews marching with French Christians and French Muslims in a sign of solidarity to condemn these terror acts and to demonstrate that that country will not retreat in the face of that kind of violence.
Q But other of your allies have described the ideology that you call a warped view of Islam by calling it radical Islam. They're not saying we're at war with Islam. They agree with you totally in every word you’ve just said. But they are calling the ideology, the warped view that these people adhere to by a name. And it seems that the White House has gone to great lengths to avoid ever calling it anything other than a warped view, and I’m wondering is there a reason for that.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, and I guess I’m trying -- I’m doing my best to try to explain to you what that is.
The first is accuracy. 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.
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. 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.
Q Radical Islam kind of makes it almost legitimate.