President Obama’s argument for not using terms such as “radical Islam” or “radical Islamists” seems to be that the American government will not act as a propaganda machine for terrorist organizations. As a result, labels like these have been practically removed from his administration’s vocabulary.
During a speech last Tuesday, the president addressed critics of his strategy (mainly Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee) by questioning their motives: “What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above.”
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, when two federal agencies redline language to stay on messaging — especially when the commander-in-chief is crafting the narrative.
This week the FBI and Department of Justice released a transcript of one of the 911 calls made by the Orlando shooter during the attack — but there was a catch. The terrorist’s comments were partially redacted. In an interview with NBC, Attorney General Loretta Lynch stayed on course with the president’s messaging as she explained the administration’s edits to the conversation:
"What we're not going to do is further proclaim this man's pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups, and further his propaganda," she said. "We are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance [to the Islamic State]." Immediately after the release of the transcript, government watchdogs, reporters and elected officials criticized the administration’s decision to omit any references to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan issued a statement denouncing the selectively edited transcript by calling it “preposterous.”
In response to overwhelming outcries, the FBI and DOJ reversed its decision to release the partially redacted transcript and issued another statement, basically summarizing a list of excuses as to why the shooter’s comments had been omitted in the first place. One line, in particular, stood out from the rest:
“We also did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda.”
When questioned about the partially redacted transcript, the White House passed the buck by blaming the DOJ for omitting references to radical Islam. “All of the decisions about releasing the transcripts were made by Justice Department officials,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday during a daily briefing.
It’s unclear whether someone from the White House directly told the DOJ to redact words relating to radical Islam from the transcript. What’s certain is that the DOJ’s decision was in line with what some believe is the president’s overly sensitive response to the phrase “radical Islam.” “They [groups like ISIL and al-Qaida] want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them, by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That's their propaganda.”
One former member of Obama’s administration has not shied away from the term. In comments immediately following the shooting in Orlando, Hillary Clinton said, "To me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing," Clinton said on NBC News's Today Show. "I’m happy to say either.”
In an appearance on CNN, Clinton added: "From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say. And you know, it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him."