A coalition of American Muslim groups is demanding that Sen. John McCain stop using the adjective “Islamic” to describe terrorists and extremist enemies of the United States.
Muneer Fareed, who heads the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), told The Washington Times that his group is beginning a campaign to persuade Mr. McCain to rephrase his descriptions of the enemy.
“We’ve tried to contact his office, contact his spokesperson to have them rethink word usage that is more acceptable to the Muslim community,” Mr. Fareed said. “If it’s not our intent to paint everyone with the same brush, then certainly we should think seriously about just characterizing them as criminals, because that is what they are.”
An aide to Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who is counting on his pro-Iraq war stance to attract conservative voters, said the senator from Arizona will not drop the word.
Steve Schmidt, a former Bush White House aide who is now a McCain media strategist, told The Times that the use of the word is appropriate and that the candidate will continue to define the enemy that way.
“Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda represent a perverted strain of Islam at odds with the great many peaceful Muslims who practice their great faith peacefully,” Mr. Schmidt said. “But the reality is, the hateful ideology which underpins bin Ladenism is properly described as radical Islamic extremism. Senator McCain refers to it that way because that is what it is.”
Mr. McCain often uses the term “Islamic” to describe terrorist enemies. The two remaining Democrats in the presidential field, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, generally shun such word usage.
President Bush also avoids the term, prompting criticism from some conservative pundits, who say the White-House-coined phrase “war on terror” does not sufficiently identify the enemy. Mr. Bush used the term “Islamic fascists” several times in 2006 and was criticized by Muslims.
Mr. McCain, an ex-Navy fighter pilot and leading hawk on the Iraq war, regularly uses the term “Islamic” in major foreign-policy speeches and in news conferences.
In a speech last month to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Mr. McCain said the formation of an international coalition “will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”
In a Republican debate in January, Mr. McCain turned to then-rival Mitt Romney and said, “I raised it many times, as to whether you have the experience and the judgment to lead this country in the war against radical Islamic extremism.”
In a July speech to Christians United for Israel, Mr. McCain said, “Violent Islamic extremists would have us believe that there is only one acceptable religious practice, and that those who diverge from it are not entitled to life or liberty. They are wrong; very, very wrong.”
Mr. Fareed, who is ISNA’s secretary-general, said such usages are wrong.
“My own take on this is that we tried and failed to stylize this particular onslaught against the United States as one that has religious connotations and regional connotations,” said Mr. Fareed, a former associate professor of Islamic studies at Wayne State University.
“I think this is just criminality, fair and square. We should just call them criminals. You want to call them terrorist criminals, fine,” he said. “But adding the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ certainly doesn’t help our cause as Americans. It’s counterproductive. It paints an entire community of believers, 1.2 billion in total, in a very negative way. And certainly that’s not something that we want to do.”
ISNA promotes itself as a voice of moderation that seeks Muslim-Jewish reconciliation and campaigns against what it calls “Islamophobia.”
The publication Jewish Week, in an April 2 article, quoted a rabbi as praising ISNA for reaching out to the Jewish community in the United States. “They feel strongly it is time to move forward,” the rabbi said.
Some counterterrorism specialists criticize ISNA for failing to condemn terrorist attacks on Israel.
Steven Emerson, who directs the Investigative Project on Terrorism, recently wrote that the silence of ISNA and other Muslim groups after Hamas killed eight Israeli students “shows their unwillingness to condemn the terrorist act and its glorification.”
Michael Ledeen, a terrorism analyst at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, backed Mr. McCain’s definition of the enemy.
“Islamic terrorism is purely descriptive,” he said. “It doesn’t group the enemy under the Islamic brush stroke because there are plenty of terrorists and extremists who are not Islamic. So it’s just a way of specifying who they are.”
Of ISNA’s criticism, Mr. Ledeen said, “They’re just silly. What a silly thing to say. I talk of Marxist extremists and nationalist extremists. They just don’t want people to say there are Islamic terrorists, which there are. Too bad.”