An exasperated-sounding President Barack Obama mocked Republicans two days after the deadliest mass shooting on American soil, saying their "fixation" on his refusal to use the words "radical Islam" is a political distraction that has no bearing on the fight against extremism.
Obama was responding to GOP critics who say his refusal to use the words "radical Islam" indicates an unwillingness to accept the truth of the threat against the country, or an attempt to minimize Islam as a galvanizing ideological force for terrorist groups targeting the U.S.
It's a criticism that has been leveled at the president for years. In 2015, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said the president's refusal to use the phrase indicates he's in denial.
"We are in a religious war with radical Islamists," the South Carolina Republican said, reports CNN. "When I hear the President of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we're in a religious war, it really bothers me."
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On June 14, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani echoed those sentiments.
"I am very disturbed by the president's failure to use the word Islamic terrorism," Giuliani said. "I've been disturbed about it for years."
Giuliani said couching the problem in politically correct terms could lead people not to take the threat seriously, or fail to come forward with information about suspected homegrown terrorists. Both the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, and San Bernardino shooters Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were on the FBI's radar before their respective attacks, but federal law enforcement was unable to stop them from targeting Americans.
In the past, Obama has said the U.S. is "not at war with Islam," but is "at war with people who have perverted Islam."
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On June 14, he took his argument a step further, blasting Republicans for focusing on semantics. Obama said his own choice of words has little bearing on the effort to stop terrorism.
"What exactly would using this label accomplish?" the president asked. "What exactly would it change?”
“Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?” he asked rhetorically during a White House press conference, says The Hill. "The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.”