Columnist: Why we don’t label ISIS “radical Islam”

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2016

This weekend, we witnessed terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota.

In some cases, these terrorists swore allegiance to ISIS, or ISIS “took credit” for the attacks. No doubt some politicians will demand that we label the culprit “radical Islam.” But we currently don’t, because there is a good reason for this. It’s actually about winning the war on terrorism.

Let’s say we had a president that blamed “radical Islamism” for all of these terror attacks. The argument goes that we can’t “win” a war unless we label our enemy, declare war on it, unite against an idea, etc. As the theory goes, we won World War II by declaring Nazism as our enemy, just as we won the Cold War by declaring communism our enemy.

If you ask our military, I bet you’ll find it has something to do with strategy and tactics, as well as effectively carrying those out, not simply pinning the enemy label on some ideological donkey. Politicians “win” (elections) by labeling enemies, which is a different thing. I can’t beat “socialism” simply by declaring it is my enemy.

Our military is pretty effective at winning wars. This is a particularly tough one because most terror enemies don’t take and hold positions that makes one a good target. Often it involves forming one’s group into a network that moves from country to country, blending in with the population, making itself a harder target.

Thankfully, some ISIS members try to wear uniforms and hold fixed territories. We read their obituaries the next day.

But ISIS is also tough because rather than organize themselves into hierarchical chain of command, they put stuff out on the Internet and hope someone takes the bait. Each terror attack makes ISIS seem important and leads Western intelligence agencies – under pressure from politicians – to hunt around for an intricate spy ring with links to Syria that is rarely there.

ISIS takes credit for any terror attack, and folks who would flunk a test on Middle East politics are quick to claim they are ISIS loyalists, to make themselves feel bigger than they really are.

Thankfully, relatively few have taken the bait to launch the attack, especially when you consider most Muslims out there aren’t signing on, or have little interest in ISIS and their lies, easily understood when this terror organization repeatedly flouts the Quran with their criminal activities.

But that could change if we start claiming ISIS is some real, actual Islamic organization – instead of our new propaganda efforts exposing the evil perpetrated by this gang, just to make a dishonest buck. Sure, some politician could win some cheap votes, and even an election, at the price of convincing a lot of folks who don’t know much about Islam that this gang of thugs is actually a bunch of religious leaders.

It would make us liars of our more effective narrative against ISIS, and have to chase or defend against a lot more terror attackers. In this way, it hardly seems smart or worth it.

Imagine if our prohibition agents and FBI agents in the 1920s and 1930s labeled Al Capone’s mob a “Catholic crime” organization. It wouldn’t have stopped this notorious Chicago gangster. It would have been a lie – and people would know this. And it would have delivered a lot of young Catholics who didn’t know any better into the arms of Capone’s goons, making the problem worse, even if it helped some politician win the anti-Catholic Klan vote in the 1920s.

If labeling “radical Islam” as being behind most of these terror attacks would help stop these attacks, I would be all for such a policy. But given that such a policy would only bring in more recruits to these killer gangsters – not “jihadis” – and undermine our intelligence, I don’t recommend this ineffective policy in the war on terrorism

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at