One of Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) favorite talking points is railing against “Islamic” extremists and terrorists. A few examples:
— “[M]y Democrat opponents who want to pull out of Iraq refuse to understand what’s being said and what’s happening, and that is, the central battleground is Iraq in this struggle against radical Islamic extremism.” [3/24/08]
— McCain underscored “that his focus as president would be waging war against ‘radical Islamic extremism.’ Speaking to about 500 party faithful…McCain said the war in Iraq was part of the fight against Islamic extremism, ‘the greatest evil, probably, that this nation has ever faced.'” [2/18/08]
— “‘The transcendent issue of this campaign will be this conflict we are in between good and evil, between the forces of radical Islamic extremism that are trying to destroy America and everything we believe in,’ McCain told reporters.” [3/16/07]
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) — the nation’s largest association of Muslim organizations — has now started a campaign to persuade McCain to drop the adjective “Islamic” when describing terrorists and extremists. ISNA head Muneer Fareed told the Washington Times:
We’ve tried to contact his office, contact his spokesperson to have them rethink word usage that is more acceptable to the Muslim community. 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.
McCain’s campaign, however, refuses to budge. Senior adviser Steve Schmidt said that the senator will continue to use the term: “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.”
As The New York Times noted this weekend, McCain frequently oversimplifies the threats abroad, incorrectly using the “shorthand ‘Al Qaeda’ to describe the enemy in Iraq.” The term “Islamic extremism” is similarly sloppy, denigrating Islam as a violent religion while conflating the diverse, multifaceted threats coming from abroad. Former CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid has also said that “even adding the word Islamic” is counterproductive to keeping extremism “from becoming mainstream.”