Why President Obama Won't Use the Term 'Radical Islam'

A look at the president's word choices in discussing terrorism.

ByABC News
June 13, 2016, 11:17 AM

— -- Donald Trump is blasting President Barack Obama for not using the words “radical Islam” in connection with the shooting in Orlando, Florida, calling on the president to resign for not using the two words.

While Obama has labeled the weekend attack, which killed at least 49 people, an “act of terror and an act of hate,” a look at his past comments surrounding terrorism indicates that he avoids the term “radical Islamic terrorism” and isn’t likely to change course because of Trump’s demand.

Why Not Say 'Radical Islam'?

The president has sought to make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion built on peaceful precepts and the acts of terrorism carried out by extremists who adhere to radical interpretations of the religion.

“We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he said at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February 2015.

To directly associate terrorism with the religion, Obama has contended, would only lend legitimacy to the terrorists’ aim to cast the West as being at war with Islam.

“They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam,” the president said in the same speech. “We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They’re terrorists.”

Bush’s Precedent

While Obama has been careful to keep the distinction, it was a premise laid out by his predecessor President George W. Bush in the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Americans understand we fight not a religion. Ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. Ours is a campaign against evil," Bush said in September of that year.

The rationale for not using “radical Islamic terrorism” can also be applied to Obama’s decision to refer to ISIS as ISIL and not use the name it prefers, the Islamic State — denying legitimacy to the terrorist group.

“ISIL is not Islamic,” he said in September 2014. “And ISIL is certainly not a state."

“It is recognized by no government nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple,” he went on to say.

Clinton Too

Trump has similarly criticized his Hillary Clinton, who, like Obama, does not use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” for her decision not to use the phrase and has called on her to drop out of the presidential race for not using it. She has brushed off Trump’s criticism.

“Trump as usual is obsessed with name calling, and from my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say,” Clinton said in an interview with NBC on Monday. “It matters that we got [Osama] bin Laden, not what name we called him.”