Hillary Clinton pushed back Monday against criticism from Donald Trump and declared that she was unafraid to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” but the likely Democratic presidential nominee then gave a 30-minute speech about the Orlando massacre without uttering the words.
Experts on fighting terrorism split on the importance of the label applied to the violent extremist strain within the Muslim faith. But they agreed that U.S. leaders must directly and unequivocally confront the ideology behind the terrorist movement that is at war with the West.
Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy and national security fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, said that he preferred adding more adjectives to the label.
“I would call it twisted, perverted, radical Islam, and yes, I would use that phrase publicly,” he said.
Sebastian Gorka, an authority on terrorism and irregular warfare, said that referring to radical Islam as such was “hugely important” in advancing the fight against terrorism.
“It is absolutely crucial what you call the enemy and how you understand who they are and what they want,” he said. “If you don’t accurately describe the problem, how are you going to solve it?”
He called the arguments against using the term “totally bogus,” noting that the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan have described the terrorist scourge as a struggle within Islam.
“What kind of arrogance for the White House or talking heads in D.C. to say, ‘No, no, no, we know better what your problem is.’ Absolutely bogus,” he said. “In fact, it weakens our allies in their fight for the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world.”
Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, blasted President Obama and Mrs. Clinton for failing to use the words “radical Islam” to describe the terrorist threat and the bloody rampage by a gunman linked to Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Mrs. Clinton said that she preferred the term “radical jihadism,” but that she thought it meant the same thing. She also argued that including the word “Islamic” risks alienating Muslim allies and empowering groups such as Islamic State by acknowledging their religious ideology.
Daniel Chirot, a professor of international studies at the University of Washington, said that Mr. Obama deserved credit for confronting Islamic State — including sustained airstrikes in Syria and Iraq — regardless of the rhetoric he used.
“It’s actions that count,” said the professor.
He agreed with Mrs. Clinton’s assessment that an aggressive stance toward Muslims, such as that proposed by Mr. Trump, would legitimize terrorist groups and help them recruit followers.
“Words alone are not really the issue. The issue is how much open prejudice there can be, whether there would be laws that would discriminate again Muslims, and particularly hash actions can produce more radicals. We know that. It becomes an ever-expanding circle,” he said. “Responsible leaders choose their words carefully, but the accusation that the president somehow condones this in some way, to me, is ridiculous.”
John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, said worries over offending friendly Muslim nations was “nonsense.”
However, he said the exact terminology used was not important and that Mrs. Clinton’s remarks demonstrated that the debate should not get hung up on “magic words.”
“Whether she uses the words or not, her view remains the same as Obama’s, which is these are isolated acts by deranged individuals who don’t really understand Islam rather than people who are acting out a political ideology,” he said. “So she may use the words, but she isn’t any more capable than Obama is of dealing with the problems.”
Mr. Trump has called on Mr. Obama to resign over refusing to say those words in remarks after the Orlando attack killed 49 people, making it the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11.
In a speech Monday in New Hampshire, Mr. Trump slammed Mrs. Clinton for the omission, saying it “broadcasts weakness across the entire world.”
“Hillary Clinton for months, and despite so many attacks, repeatedly refused to even say the words ‘radical Islam’ until I challenged her yesterday,” said Mr. Trump.
The billionaire businessman also doubled down on his proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, saying he would halt immigration from terrorist breeding grounds such as Syria.
Mrs. Clinton said she preferred the term “radical jihadism.”
“To me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think, means the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show. “All of his talk and demagoguery and rhetoric is not going to solve the problem. I’m not going to demonize and demagogue and declare war on an entire religion.”
The former secretary of state later dropped “radical Islam” when she delivered a speech in Cleveland, where she vowed to defeat terrorism with a sustained air campaign and the help of an international coalition.
She did not mention Mr. Trump by name, but warned against his proposed Muslim ban.
“Inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric and threatening to ban the families and friends of Muslim Americans as well as millions of Muslim businesspeople and tourists from entering our country hurts the vast majority of Muslims who love freedom and hate terror,” she said. “So does saying that we have to start special surveillance on our fellow Americans because of their religion. “
She added, “It’s no coincidence that hate crimes against American Muslims and mosques have tripled after Paris and San Bernardino. That’s wrong. And it’s also dangerous. It plays right into the terrorists’ hands.”