Marco Rubio gives an excellent explanation for why our leaders don’t say “radical Islamic terrorism”

Marco Rubio, free from the constraints of actually running to win the Republican nomination, made a refreshingly clear and sensible argument during last night’s debate. He just didn’t realize he was making it.

Responding to Donald Trumps claim that, no really, the entire Muslim religion considers America to be its enemy, Rubio pointed out that if we’re going to be serious about protecting the United States from extremist groups in the Middle East, we’re going to have to ally ourselves with Muslim countries and other Muslim groups who have even more of an incentive to neutralize the Islamic State than we do.

As Rubio said:

I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m interested in being correct. And in order to be correct on this issue, here’s the bottom line. We do work. There is — Islam has a major problem on its hands. It has a significant percentage of its adherents, particular in the Sunni faith but also in the Shia, who have been radicalized. And are willing to fly planes into a building and kill innocent people.

There is no doubt about that. It is also true if you look around the world at the challenges we face, we are going to have to work together with other — with Muslims, who do not — who are not radicals. We’re going to have to work with the Jordanian kingdom.

We’re going to have to work with the Saudis. We’re going to have to work with the Gulf kingdoms. We’re going to have to work with the Egyptians to defeat, for example, ISIS.

Rubio’s argument here concerns Trump’s depiction of the entire Muslim faith as being hostile to the West, but it’s not the first time this argument has been used in the service of what Trump or even Rubio would call “political correctness.” As it happens, the same points can be made to defend President Obama’s reluctance to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” — a term that Rubio, along with the rest of his opponents, has hammered the President for not using.

As conservative columnist Eli Lake explained over a year ago:

Marco Rubio, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Marco Rubio, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

It’s easy to see the absurdity in saying that men who shout “Allahu Akhbar” before they murder Jews, cartoonists and French policeman are not radical Muslims. But [Press Secretary Josh] Earnest was not freelancing, he was articulating a longstanding U.S. policy, not only for Obama but also his predecessor, George W. Bush. Both administrations have said repeatedly since Sept. 11, 2001, that radical Islam is not Islamic.

There is a reason for this: The long war against radical Islamic terrorists requires at least the tacit support of many radical Muslims.

It sounds strange. But as Emile Nakhleh, who was one of the CIA’s top experts on political Islam between 1993 and 2006, told me, there was a recognition following the 9/11 attacks inside the Bush administration that many supporters of the Wahhabi strain of Islam favored by al-Qaeda and its allies were not plotting attacks on the West. In some cases, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the purveyors of Wahhabism were longstanding American allies. “There was the two-ton elephant in the room, and that is Saudi Arabia,” Nakhleh said.

If you need a group of people to help you take out a common enemy, it helps to avoid pissing that group of people off. With respect to the Muslim groups we need in order to form a coalition against the Islamic State, that means avoiding insulting their faith — whether the insult is calling all members of the faith radicals, or calling radical actions Islamic.

So Marco Rubio was right to point out that Donald Trump’s “Clash of Civilizations” rhetoric isn’t making us any safer (Trump, for his part, suggested that political correctness indirectly led to the September 11th attacks), but his argument applies to a critique that he himself has made.

That doesn’t make him wrong in this case, but it does make him a hypocrite.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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10 Responses to “Marco Rubio gives an excellent explanation for why our leaders don’t say “radical Islamic terrorism””

  1. Undoc Alien says:

    Before him, Tricky-Dickie-Nixon didn’t help them any.

  2. 2karmanot says:


  3. Fred Weller says:

    “According to Islam all the non-muslims must die. Islam is a terrorist and dangerous religion”

    I see. Well, here is a direct quote from the Bible where God tells his followers to kill non-believers and infidels. Using your exact “logic”, Christianity is therefore a “terrorist and dangerous religion”. (Are YOU a Christian?) Here’s your Bible quote.

    Deuteronomy 17: “1 Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him. 2 If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, 3 and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, 4 and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. 6 On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.”

  4. Fred Weller says:

    In fact, YOU are the enemy. Period.

  5. Fred Weller says:

    The long, slow decline of the republican party began in earnest with St. Ronald The Holy, unquestionably the worst president of my lifetime. (I’m 66.) The decline begins with Reagan and passes through the emetic Sarah Palin before finally arriving at Trump, the low point of the history of the party.

  6. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Thank you for your opinion. I can only regard it as an opinion until you post a link to this information.

  7. SuperSiri1159 says:

    According to Islam all the non-muslims must die. Islam is a terrorist and dangerous religion. Republicans are absolutely right about it.

  8. BeccaM says:

    The Republicans have been distilling and dumbing-down their rhetoric for more than a generation. They’ve also been promoting stereotypes and prejudicial beliefs. I’m sure someone can come up with a different or earlier example, but right now I’m thinking about Reagan’s talk about the Soviet “evil empire” and his “axis of evil.” When you’ve gone down that road, rational thinking and nuance are seen as weakness.

    Even now, Republicans use the term ‘radical Islam’ or ‘radical Islamic extremists’ to connote all Muslims, up to and including the Islamic men and women who have fought for and died for this country. (Not unlike the way they say ‘Judeo-Christian’ when what they really mean is just ‘Christian, preferably of the conservative fundamentalist sects only’.)

    But yes, in those remarks, Rubio spoke a rational truth. Won’t help him though, and it certainly won’t help him when the GOP is riddled through with the kind of prejudicial blood-garglers like the guy who posted a comment about half an hour before mine here.

  9. Zig-Zag says:

    Lil’ Marco is an idiot. Moslems are the enemy. Period.

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