Why We're Debating the Term 'Radical Islam' in the Wake of Orlando

A demonstrator protesting against anti-Muslim cartoons. (Voyou Desoeuvre/Flickr)

The more we learn more about the Pulse nightclub tragedy and shooter Omar Mateen, the murkier the picture seems to become.

The Orlando shooting is being treated and investigated as a terrorist attack. But the language around terrorism can be seriously complicated. Politicians can't even agree on a universal description for terrorist groups.

"Radical Islam" is an especially fraught expression after the Orlando attacks. Here's what it means and how our leaders--and wannabe leaders--are talking about it.

At the very least, Omar Mateen is an ISIS sympathizer

Omar Mateen was a second-generation Muslim American. The 29-year-old was born in New York to parents who had immigrated to the US from Afghanistan. Although he didn't have a criminal record, Mateen was investigated by the FBI at least two times for possible terrorist connections.

Whether or not he had direct ties to radical groups, we know that he pledged allegiance to ISIS and their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, during Sunday morning's horrific attack. Does that make him a terrorist? Or just an ISIS fanboy?

While we don't know if Mateen was directed or funded by the terror group, he seems to have been inspired by the notorious Islamic terrorists. ISIS has of course masterminded and carried out other attacks on Western targets recently, including ones in Paris and Brussels.

President Obama won't say "radical Islam"

What's in the name "radical Islamist"? (Speaker resources/Flickr)

President Obama called the shooting an "act of terror and an act of hate" on Sunday. He was diplomatic, stating that the only sure thing so far was that Mateen was filled with hatred.

What we didn't hear was Obama denouncing or even mentioning "radical Islam" or "radical Islamic terrorists." He never has. Here's why, in Obama's own words about the Islamic State:

"They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists ... We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."

President Obama has said that ISIS is "desperate" to portray their members as the holy defenders of Islam. He wants Americans to reject this fantasy. He prefers to use the term "violent extremism" when he talks about terrorists. (Some world leaders, like Francois Hollande of France, use the nickname Daesh to refer to this group instead of Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL, to avoid any reference to the religion altogether. And also because the terrorists supposedly hate it.)

In Obama's opinion, evoking Islam in the name of terrorism and legitimizing what the terrorists are doing in the name of Islam does a huge disservice to the more than 1 billion Muslims around the world who reject violent, terror-based groups.

Obama also maintains that generalizing about Muslims might mean that we are feeding into ISIS propaganda--and alienating allies in the Muslim world.

Some believe Obama is trying to deny the connection between terrorism and Islam

Obama has many critics who believe that he is denying a clear link between Islam and extremist terrorism--and that to do so is dangerous.

Critics also say Obama's avoidance of the term reflects a larger failure to defeat terrorism and keep America safe.

Trump went way beyond insisting on the term "radical Islam" to blaming all Muslims

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's own response to the Orlando shooting was one of his most divisive speeches yet.

He reaffirmed his zero tolerance, anti-immigration stance as strongly as ever. He reiterated his desire to ban all immigrants from any country with a "proven history of terrorism" against the US or its allies.

And Trump also hinted that President Obama has some secret agenda that causes him to willfully ignore terrorism ... or even sympathize with extremists. No matter where you lie on the political spectrum, those are some wild allegations to make about a two-term leader of the free world.

Trump painted a picture of radical Islam seeping through the US like a plague. He blamed Muslim Americans--many of whom have held vigils and donated blood in the wake of the Orlando attack--for failing to warn the government about Mateen's plans, as if they should have somehow known about it.

Trump also claimed Clinton wouldn't use the term "radical Islam"

In an interview on Monday, Trump sharply called out both President Obama and Hillary Clinton--Trump's rival for the White House--for failing to use the term "radical Islam." He argued that it's impossible to fix the problem of terrorism if we tiptoe around and refuse to call a spade a spade. He had some pretty strong words for both Obama and Clinton.

There's one small problem with this: Clinton had used this exact term earlier. On the same television show.

One Democrat who has no problem talking about "radical Islamism": Hillary Clinton

Unlike Obama, whose administration she served as Secretary of State, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won't shy away from linking radical Islam to terrorism. But she also argues that it's more important to act than to sit around and quibble over word choice:

"From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say. And it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. I have clearly said we--whether you call it 'radical jihadism' or 'radical Islamism,' I'm happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing."

She has also called the Pulse shooting a terrorist attack.

Although she did use the divisive term, Clinton made sure to distance herself from Donald Trump.

A few other Democrats prefer to use this controversial term too.

Some Republicans distanced themselves from Trump after his comments

If you were listening for GOP leaders' support for their presumptive nominee after his speech, you heard a whole lot of nothing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to comment on Trump's remarks. Other big names who distanced themselves from Donald Trump were House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.

One Republican who might agree with Trump is his formal rival Senator Ted Cruz.

He made "radical Islam" a big talking point in his presidential campaign. Last December, he gave a speech outlining his plans to defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups. He said that we can't avoid talking about Islam if we want to tackle terrorism:

"The strategy to defeat the enemy begins with calling it by its name. We need to take off the blinders of political correctness that prevent us from seeing what is right in front of us. That enemy is radical Islamic terrorism and it is trying to destroy our country and our way of life."

So here's where we are on "radical Islam" and "radical Islamic terrorism"

Numerous top Republicans have repeatedly criticized Obama over his refusal to talk about "radical Islamic terrorism."

Meanwhile, Obama wants to fight back against persecution and Islamophobia and avoid alienating allies. He says his choice not to use the term has nothing to do with political correctness and fought back against Trump's line of criticism, saying that anti-Muslim rhetoric like Trump's is "not the America we want."

Although the debate over words and terrorism has intensified this week, some believe that "radical Islam" shouldn't be the focus after Orlando's attacks.

And others just as strongly believe it should.

This article was written by Clementine Amidon and originally appeared on Kicker. Kicker explains the most important, compelling things going on in the world and empowers you to get in the know, make up your own mind, and take action. For more, check out the Kicker site, like their Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter.