In discussing the most deadly mass shooting in American history, which I guess we’ve decided to call terrorism and not gun violence, Hillary Clinton used the phrase “radical Islamism.” She used it a lot, mostly to explain why it wasn’t a big deal that she was saying it now. Quote:
[T]o me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point. I have clearly said many, many times we face terrorist enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people. We have to stop them and we will. We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism or radical Islamism, whatever you call it. It’s the same.
Calling terrorism “radical Islamism” is so much the same that she offered nearly the exact same reasons it’s not a big deal to two different morning shows. Meanwhile, after Donald Trump had congratulated himself on predicting something like the Orlando massacre, he taunted Hillary for deciding to talk like him:
I have been hitting Obama and Crooked Hillary hard on not using the term Radical Islamic Terror. Hillary just broke-said she would now use!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2016
So good news, voters: our lesser evil now resembles the greater that little bit more. Fretting after the jump.
On this issue, I agree with Hillary the way I usually do: essentially, I guess, from a position of disappointment and reservation. She’s right that it doesn’t really matter whether we say “terrorism” or “Islamic terrorism” or “radical Islamism” or whatever. We know what we mean. But she is also right that putting Islam in there “sounds like we are declaring war against a religion,” as she told George Stephanopoulos. “It doesn’t do justice to the vast numbers of Muslims in our own country and around the world who are peaceful people.”
That’s what she said in the course of explaining that she was going to do it anyway, and it didn’t matter. Obviously, it does matter to her. She wouldn’t have a prepared—and, on reiteration, evidently rehearsed—justification if it didn’t. Over the weekend, she consciously decided to start saying “Islamism.” Why?
I don’t think it’s because the Orlando shooting finally convinced her Islam has something to do with terror. Although he called himself a supporter of the Islamic state on a 911 call, Omar Mateen was also investigated twice and found to have no substantial ties to terror organizations. His friends and family describe him as an angry loner more often than as a religious zealot. If Clinton didn’t think terrorists were Muslim before, it’s not likely Mateen convinced her.
It seems more likely she didn’t want to imply that Muslims were terrorists, as she said. But now she has changed her mind. Perhaps she decided that the voters who care about this difference between herself and the Republican nominee are fewer than the voters who want to hear terrorism called Islamism.
Maybe she’s right. Identity-minded Democrats have forgiven her an aggressive Middle East policy that has killed thousands of Muslims; it’s not farfetched they would tolerate her naming them. Maybe Hillary can still be the progressive candidate of diversity while she positions herself as the best commander in the war on radical Islam. Or maybe, now that the primaries are effectively over, she is tacking to the right.
One more difference between the candidates for president has disappeared. To me, a frustrating thing about this election and contemporary politics generally is the similarity between my choices. Rhetorically and temperamentally, the candidates couldn’t be more different—unless, of course, Hillary went back to not saying “radical Islamism.” But from a policy standpoint, they are frustratingly the same.
Both favor military intervention in the Middle East. Neither has a meaningful plan to regulate the financial sector or address inequality—not by taxing the rich or by expanding social services. One usurped the nomination of a center-right party that is increasingly racist, and one accepted the nomination of a center-right party that is increasingly not.
I don’t mean to suggest that Trump and Clinton are remotely equivalent as candidates for office, because they aren’t. He is a reckless demagogue with no experience in government, and she is among the most qualified nominees of all time. But the parties they represent and the policies they might meaningfully pursue look increasingly the same, and I don’t like it. Don’t make me add Muslim-baiting to their list of similarities.