Members of the Leeds Muslim Community stand in Millennium Square to mark the two minute tribute to the victims of the London bombings on July 14, 2005 in Leeds, England.
( Christopher Furlong
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Much of the fallout after Orlando has fixed on political language, nowhere more than on the endless debate over whether to call such an attack an act of, quote, “radical Islam.” Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: What happened yesterday will happen many times over with a president like Obama that doesn't even want to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” He doesn’t even want to use the term. And Clinton won’t use it either.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Hillary Clinton.
HILLARY CLINTON: From my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say. And to me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: President Obama.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There’s no magic to the phrase “radical Islam.” It’s a political talking point. It’s not a strategy. Not once has an advisor of mine said, man, if we really use that phrase, we’re gonna turn this whole thing around, not once.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marc Lynch is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and author of the book, The New Arab Wars. Marc, welcome back.
MARC LYNCH: It’s great to be back.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Does it really matter if we say “radical Islam,” does it matter if we don’t?
MARC LYNCH: It really doesn’t matter all that much in terms of how we go about fighting a campaign against terrorism at a practical level, but by talking about Islam you then don't have to talk about other kinds of issues. In a sense, what you're doing is you're feeding into this narrative of this being something about the West against Islam, this clash of civilizations, which actually does feed very much into the narrative of precisely the radical and extremist groups that we’re trying to contain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, let's talk about the endless recurrence of the “clash of civilizations,” as you call it. Is there a clash of civilizations?
MARC LYNCH: For groups like Al Qaeda or for the Islamic State, virtually everything they do is designed to bring one into being. And the fundamental problem these extremists have always had is that the vast majority of the Muslims of the world simply don't agree with them. You know, the vast majority of the Muslims of the world are part of a common civilization. They reject violence and reject extremism. And yet, what the terrorism is designed to do is to polarize, to drive these wedges so that these, these Muslims caught in the middle are left with no choice. They might want to coexist with the world but the world rejects them. Terrorism is very much about trying to eliminate that middle ground and kind of force people to choose sides.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This time around, have you found that the President has moved a little closer to Hillary Clinton's position that this is basically just a distraction? MARC LYNCH: I think more interesting than whether Obama and Clinton are moving together is the really remarkable fact that polling after Orlando seems to show that there is pretty widespread approval for the position that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are taking and a pretty overwhelming rejection of Donald Trump's position. We've always had this sense that by pandering to the public you would actually win support. Instead, you seem to be getting a backlash, where people are listening to this and they’re putting it into the context of this call for a ban on Muslim immigration, and they seem to be rejecting it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You told us after last year's attacks in Paris that you felt as if the American people were, in some ways, regressing, that we were erasing certain gains in public discourse that it seems that we've made since 9/11, when President George W. Bush was visiting mosques, and so on. Do you still feel that way?
MARC LYNCH: So, on the one hand, this poll showing widespread rejection of Trump’s position after Orlando is a very good sign, but it’s just one poll. On the other side, there really has been this mainstreaming of ideas about Islam, which would have been very much on the fringe in the past and now seem to be increasingly accepted.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you know these are being mainstreamed? I know that the digital media gives ample opportunity for groups that once hid in the shadows, whether they’re violently inclined jihadists or white supremacists, to get together as if at the corner bar and hatch their plans, but do we know for a fact that the ideas have mainstreamed?
MARC LYNCH: I think for many people the Trump campaign, and not just Trump but the entire Republican primary, was evidence of the mainstreaming of these ideas, where almost every candidate seemed to be endorsing many of the same ideas about Islam and about immigration, and the like. That’s part of it. But it's also just the move into mainstream opinion columns and general policy reports and things like that, things which in in the past would have seemed quite outlandish becoming quite normal.
But I think that this might very well be an artifact of, of election season, and one of the great hopes would be that you see the American people and the American policy community, as a whole, looking at this and taking a step back and realizing what a strategic disaster it would be to fall into that trap of conflating Islam with these small extremist groups.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let me ask you a question about another narrative, not conflating Islam with these radical groups but conflating these radical groups with individuals who, as we've read, manage to self-radicalize. Because ISIS is actually losing ground and slowly losing in the field, they are resorting to exhorting their followers around the world to basically freelance.
MARC LYNCH: When these people go and commit these mass atrocities and they don't associate themselves with ISIS or with Al Qaeda, the media forgets about them almost immediately, almost as if it never happened. When there’s this claim of association with ISIS, it becomes front-page news and dominates the political landscape for weeks. Now, that doesn't mean though that there aren't any links. In other words, both of those things can be true.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said at the beginning of this conversation that we should avoid the phrase “radical Islam,” not as a matter of political correctness but because that is precisely the narrative of ISIS and Al Qaeda, who are intentionally trying to eliminate what you call the “gray zones of tolerance” where essentially we can all get along. What do we call it, if not radical Islam?
MARC LYNCH: You know, a better phrase is one that the Obama administration has been using for quite some time. I mean, these are violent extremists, very much outside of the mainstream, using violence to promote their message. And focusing on their violence and their extremism makes a lot more sense than trying to force us into an association with Islam, which has all of these negative repercussions. So frankly, I would simply call this “violent extremism” because that’s what it is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marc, thank you very much.
MARC LYNCH: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marc Lynch is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and author of the new book, The New Arab Wars.
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BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, why the Second Amendment may not mean what you think it means.