When it comes to radical Islamic terrorism, the Obama White House is going out on a consistent note.
President Obama’s spokesman acknowledged Tuesday that an attack by a Muslim student at Ohio State University may have been motivated by extremism, but he cautioned against blaming it on radical Islam — a phrase he carefully avoided, in keeping with Mr. Obama’s practice.
“Our response as a country to this situation matters,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “If we respond to this situation by casting aspersions on millions of people that adhere to a particular religion, or if we increase our suspicion of people who practice a particular religion, we’re more likely to contribute to acts of violence than we are to prevent them.”
During the presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump criticized Mr. Obama and his team frequently for avoiding the term “radical Islamic extremism,” saying the U.S. can’t defeat an enemy without describing it accurately.
Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that terrorism is a perversion of Islam, and he often points out that America has had its share of non-Muslim extremists, too. He believes, as do many of his top advisers, that portraying terrorism as a form of Islam only serves as a recruiting tool for the terrorists.
In the Ohio State attack on Monday, native Somali student Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove a car into a crowd on campus and then slashed at some of his victims with a knife. A university police officer shot him dead; 11 others were injured by Artan.
In a Facebook post before the attack, Artan railed about the treatment of Muslims around the world, cited the persecution of Muslims in Burma and vented anger at the U.S.
“By Allah, we will not let you sleep unless you give peace to the Muslims. You will not celebrate or enjoy any holiday,” the post stated.
Mr. Trump has been silent so far about the attack. Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat who was the party’s nominee for vice president, mistakenly called it a “senseless act of gun violence” Monday.
Mr. Earnest said there is “plenty of available evidence to indicate this individual may have been motivated by extremism, and may have been motivated by a desire to carry out an act of terrorism.”
But he also emphasized that the U.S. has more than 100 joint terrorism task forces “to counter violent extremism.” He said the administration must continue to “fight efforts to radicalize people in this country.” And he said the administration’s response reflects “our desire to adapt to the current threat picture.”
“We’ll let our investigators determine exactly what led to this event, but we should be mindful of our response,” he said.