Following the shocking act of ISIS inspired terror in Orlando, it is tempting for many Americans, and indeed many politicians who already believe it, to describe what happened as, “radical Islam.” But it is not radical Islam. It is ISIS. And here is why the distinction matters.
Just as the War on Terror was a dangerous misnomer following 9/11, so is the term, “radical Islam.” The term, “War on Terror,” allowed the United States to go after any and all groups or movements deemed terrorists by the United States or its allies; a foolish lack of focus that led the country to invade Iraq, endlessly bomb the Taliban and Pashtun people, almost get into a war with Iran, and generally antagonize the Middle East, the Muslim world, and the world at large while taking its eye and resources off the true enemy that attacked the United States on 9/11: Al – Qaeda. The same goes for the current situation that the United States finds itself in. The true enemy is ISIS and a narrowly and well defined strain of Sunni Wahhabi Islam that finds its roots in the Arabian Peninsula, that has consistently preached violence against American civilians and taught, trained, and financed Al – Qaeda and ISIS. That is the clear and present danger to the United States. It is not Iran, Bashar Assad, the PPK, Hamas or Hezbollah. They are not all the same and they are not the other side of the same coin – the latter group of actors engaging in what is insurgent warfare to advance their geopolitical interests, closer to what the Viet Cong was during the Vietnam War. And yes, sometimes that warfare has been against American soldiers or political targets, but they do not actively seek to kill American civilians as ISIS and Al – Qaeda have done and continue to do. That is a very big distinction.
Just the United States could have more easily and soundly defeated Al – Qaeda had it understood that Al – Qaeda was its true enemy, it can defeat ISIS if it understands that ISIS is its true enemy. The United States cannot defeat all the other groups and countries in the Middle East that it does not politically agree with, or that its allies want to it to defeat for them. Doing so will be a losing effort and would only create future generations of terrorists, just as the War on Terror did. (Let us not forget how ISIS ultimately came to exist – out of the political vacuum that the United States created by needlessly invading and destabilizing Iraq, all under the banner of, “fighting terror.”) That is the problem with the term, “radical Islam.” There are many political influences in Washington that are all too happy to use broad and ill – defined terms to justify their own pet war projects. The term is potentially far too encompassing and risks the United States taking its focus away from the true goal of defeating ISIS and its ideological and financial backers, while getting bogged down in a myriad number of conflicts that it does not need to be involved with and that do not actually present a threat to it.