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Use of 'Radical Islamic Terrorism' Becomes Hot-button Topic in US Campaign

  • Ken Bredemeier

A woman cries and holds flowers in front of a makeshift memorial to remember the victims of a mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., in New York, Sunday, June 12, 2016

A woman cries and holds flowers in front of a makeshift memorial to remember the victims of a mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., in New York, Sunday, June 12, 2016

The fight over how to describe Muslim terrorist acts in the United States has quickly consumed the country's 2016 presidential race in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump offering divergent thoughts.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat nearing the end of two terms as the American leader, has consistently refused to describe attacks by Muslims in the U.S. as "radical Islamic terrorism," so as not to denounce the entire Muslim religion and its 1.6 billion adherents around the world.

He maintained that stance, even as U.S. authorities say an American-born Muslim who was the son of Afghan parents shot 49 people to death and injured 53 more at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday. In the hours after the mayhem ended with police killing the suspect, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, Obama described Mateen's assault as "an act of terror and an act of hate."

President Barack Obama, left, speaks to members of the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 13, 2016.

President Barack Obama, left, speaks to members of the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 13, 2016.

Obama's Republican critics have often belittled his parsing of the language in describing terrorist attacks, saying it represents weakness in combating a mortal threat to Americans, even as he has ordered a steady round of armed drone attacks against suspected terrorists in the Mideast.

Trump, the brash billionaire real-estate mogul who surged to the top of the Republican presidential field with a call to block Muslims from entering the country, dared Obama to change his language about Muslim-launched attacks as the extent of the Orlando carnage became known.

"Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism?" Trump tweeted Sunday. "If he doesn't he should resign immediately in disgrace."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 13, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 13, 2016.

In another tweet, Trump said, "Appreciate the congrats for being right on Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!"

Clinton changes rhetoric

Until Monday, Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state during Obama's first term in office from 2009 to 2013, had also rejected use of the term "radical Islamic terrorism." But in the wake of the Orlando attack, she altered her description of such terrorist actions.

Clinton, in several news show interviews, said she had no problem using the term "radical Islamism" as the impetus behind terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims. But she said that words mattered less than actions to combat terrorism and that the United States cannot "demonize, demagogue and declare war on an entire religion.”

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, June 13, 2016.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, June 13, 2016.

"I have clearly said many, many times we face terrorist enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people. We have to stop them and we will. We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism or radical Islamism, whatever you call it," she told one interviewer.

"And from my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say. It matters that we got bin Laden, not what name we called him," Clinton said.

Clinton, seeking to become the first female U.S. president, said that if Trump "is somehow suggesting I don't call this for what it is, he hasn't been listening. I have clearly said we face terrorist enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering people. We have to stop them and we will. We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism, and we will."

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