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How to not talk about terrorism

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PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14:  A boy lights candles outside Le Carillon bar, the day after a deadly attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 350 injured, 99 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital.  (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)
Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: A boy lights candles outside Le Carillon bar, the day after a deadly attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 350 injured, 99 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

Radical Islam, jihadists, or none of the above? Take Two analyzes the way politicians and pundits talk about violent extremism.

In the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, presidential hopefuls on both sides of the political aisle face a similar question: What do you call the people who commit violent acts in the name of Islam?

At the last Democratic debate, candidates were asked if the U.S. is at war with radical Islam. All three candidates said no. This sparked criticism from the Republican side, where several frontrunners continue to use the term. So who has it right? Take Two put the question to Mustafa Umar, the director of education and outreach at the Islamic Institute of Orange County.

Ben Bergman (BB): This conversation really started after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. The French prime minister said the country was “at war with radical Islam.” President Obama chose not to use that wording. He refused to use it again after the recent Paris attacks. Was he right to do that?

“Yeah, I believe so. Islam is the name of a religion — it’s not the name of a particular group of people who follow that religion. So when you put this prefix on ‘radical Islam’ … I think it gives the misperception that Islam is a religion that promotes violence or promotes terrorism or something like that, when [that’s] actually far from the truth.”

BB: Several Democrats have been using the phrase “jihadists” instead. Is that better?

“No, it’s not any better because, first of all, that doesn’t represent what the term ‘jihad’ actually means in Islam, according to almost all Muslim scholars throughout 1400 years of Muslim scholarship. Jihad has a number of meanings. One of the meanings is to be fighting against oppression and tyranny. [When] you’re actually promoting terrorism and oppression, you’re not a jihadist — you’re actually the opposite.”

BB: So what terms should we all be using?

“First of all, we can call it religious violent extremism without implicating Islam in particular. When this happens to other people you don’t find someone [saying] ‘this is radical Catholicism, or this is radical Christianity, or this is radical atheism’ or something like that … When it comes to Muslims, automatically they say, ‘you know what? They use their religion to justify these acts of terror.’  It’s very misleading because it gives us this false idea. There’s this false idea that … there are a lot of Muslims out there and they’re peaceful, and when they start reading the Quran immediately they read some verses and they become radicalized by those verses, but that’s not the reality. The reality is these people had certain political grievances and they chose to violently express that frustration and they needed some backing … they used religion and it just happened to be Islam that they chose to quote certain verses.”

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