On the Usage of “Radical Islam”
When I directed the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the CIA in the early 2000s, I frequently interacted with senior Bush administration policymakers about how to engage Muslim communities and, when doing so, which words and phrases to use to best describe the radical ideology preached by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Always, the aim was to distinguish between radicals and extremists and the vast majority of mainstream Muslims, and to make sure the latter understood that we were not lumping them in with the former.
Like the Obama administration, the Bush administration correctly judged that the term “radical Islam” was divisive and adversarial, and would alienate the very people we wanted to communicate with.
the next administration — I expect it will be the Clinton administration — will continue the policy the Bush administration began of referring to terrorists by the names of their organizations: Hezbollah, Ahl al-Bayt, the (Iranian) Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, ISIS, and so on.
Using such terms avoids demonizing majorities of Sunni Muslims who just want to follow their faith, devoid of politics or activism. Simple terms like “terrorists,” “killers,” and “criminals” are also quite effective.
Because it ends up that governing is complicated and simplistic declarations are not helpful. (And the silly bickering over this term underscores a profound lack of understanding of the world and how it has to be navigated).
I recommend the whole piece.