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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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What’s in a label?

Uploaded: Feb 27, 2017

Item: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Item: Trump’s new national security advisor General McMaster calls use of the term ‘Radical Islamic Terrorism’ “counter-productive.”

Here’s where I have to part company with The Bard and his sweet Juliet. Words matter, and the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” matters a great deal. It’s a miserable misnomer, and its selective application defames well more than a billion-and-half of our fellow travelers on the globe.

Of course, there’s history here. That phrase became a campaign issue when Dems eschewed its use, to the loud objection of GOP candidates, notably Mr. Trump, himself. So, who’s right? Deconstructing it may help.

First, take the adjective “radical” (please). Does it add or clarify anything, modifying the term “terrorism” as it does? Another way to ask that question is to wonder whether there are any non-radical (e.g., ‘moderate’) terrorists abroad in the land? No, there are not – middle-of-the-road terrorism is an oxymoron – not unlike an ‘alternative fact’. At best, it’s redundant – just put there to deepen the dread without adding actual descriptive meaning. And isn’t dread what terrorists hope to incite?

Okay, what about “Islamic”? For some, this adjective is a bit more tricky. It is certainly true that the current incarnation of much Middle East mayhem also uses the descriptor in the acronyms ISIS or ISIL. And it’s also true that there are other breeds of terrorists – just in this country we’ve had tragic terror from Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City or the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, or the murderous Dylan Roof. Most Klan activity intends to inspire terror.

Around the globe, there are more than 50 terror groups recognized by the State Department, and organized around either religious extremism, separatist or Marxist themes. Outside the Middle East, they include Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the FARC in Colombia, and Boko Haram in Africa. Many of the Middle East groups claim an Islamist affiliation, but they are vastly different from each other – so does lumping them together clarify -- or obscure true meaning and accuracy?

Further, does use of the term create a wildly inaccurate guilt-by-association? There are 1.6 Billion Muslims in the world, less than 20% of whom live in the Middle East/North Africa, and about a Billion of whom inhabit the Asia Pacific region. Most pay little note to global political strife. Indeed, reliable estimates of the number of militants among the world's Muslims calculate to about 106,000.

Thus, we tar an entire religious group with the misdeeds of less than 1/1000th of one percent. Put another way, “99 and 44/100ths percent pure” is good enough for Ivory Snow, but 50 times better than that – 99 and 999/1,000ths percent is not, when applied to the Islamic faith? Do you think that does cruel harm to an overwhelmingly law-abiding religious community?

Indeed, do we apply similar terms to terrorists of other religious persuasions? There’s ample evidence that Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph was motivated by misplaced Christian zeal. Yet, do we refer to him (or James Kopp, Robert Dear, Paul Hill, John Burt or Michael Griffin, among others) as a “Christian terrorist?” Of course we don’t, as that would be grossly unfair to an overwhelmingly law-abiding religious community. Hmm.

So the term may be mildly descriptive, but it is also vastly over-generalized to the point of absurdity, and used in ways we do not apply to other religious groups -- out of fairness -- because it does real harm.

Perhaps something like that is what General McMaster has in mind when he calls it counter-productive, or “unhelpful.” In his first senior staff meeting, the new Trump national security maven called ISIS “a perversion of Islam,” and said that mid-east terrorists are distinctly “un-Islamic.” A colleague who served with the General in Iraq as he planned the successful ‘surge’ concurred, saying that McMaster “absolutely does not view Islam as the enemy.” He also “ordered his soldiers to treat detainees humanely and not to use derogatory language toward Muslims.”

Now, obviously, there’s a day of reckoning coming between the experienced warrior, whom Slate calls the “Army’s smartest Officer” and the callow chickenhawks at roost in the White House. I wish him well, fervently so. He may be one of our best hopes to dial back the doomsday clock, a few ticks farther away from midnight. Stay tuned -- very tuned.

In the meantime, howsabout we put that wretched ‘RIT’ term to rest?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bob Johnson, a resident of another community,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 3:34 pm

I would agree with you if Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, did not promote religious violence in its "holy" book, the Quran ( Web Link ). All of the "holy" books of all of the "revealed" religions have teaching which promote religious violence.

Perhaps the American founder and Deist Thomas Paine was correct when he wrote in The Age of Reason that we need a revolution in religion based on our innate God-given reason and Deism. This will put an end to religious violence.

Progress! Bob Johnson

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Thanks for your comment, Bob.

I have always assumed that if a cleric wanted to throw dirt on Christianity, s/he could cite passages from The Bible (to say nothing of atrocities committed in the name of whichever 'one true faith') that could be interpreted as violent against non-believers. As I recall, the Old Testament, in particular, is pretty fire-and-brimstoney, as regards heretics.

Deism certainly has its appeal.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 5:04 pm

I'm hopeful that General McMaster will not be fired for suggesting that American's stop using the phrase RIT. It can only further divide and harm all good citizens.

There are evil people in all camps and many are known. I work for BishopAccountability and I track down photos of Catholic clergy that rape and sexually torture children and vulnerable adults. There are countless perpetrators of sexual violence who are continuously identified worldwide. The sexual abuse of children/vulnerable adults is one of the world's great tragedies and secrets. It serves no purpose to refer to all Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist clergy as potential child rapists. I believe that the majority of Muslims trying to escape from their homelands are innocent victims whose primary goal is to protect their families and remain alive. The are not RIT.

It's sane policy for American's to welcome refugees from war torn Islamic countries with respect and dignity. They are fellow human beings deserving of safe haven.

Re: "callous chickenhawks" The term chickenhawks has been used historically to describe homosexual/gay folks who prefer relationships with those under the age of consent.
. Web Link

I agree, it's time to retire the phrase RIT.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Correction: Callow and not callous...sorry.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Thanks, Cholo -- I was unaware of that slang definition. Google provides wikipedia references to both that one and the political one I intended: Web Link I am hoping that other readers won't be confused -- 'callow' and your definition are sort of at-odds.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

Without labeling, what is it that determines substance?
Is it recognition, with labeling secondary as in Autism?
Homeland security determines substance with recognition,
be it appearance, dress, manner, or color, Labeling is
secondary through interrogation.

Posted by rosalindr, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 27, 2017 at 8:52 pm

rosalindr is a registered user.

Actually I like the use of the term "Radical Islamic Terrorists" to differentiate them from non-radical Islamic non-terrorists. It describes terrorists in the Islamic faith and sets them apart from the millions of Muslims who are not radical and NOT terrorists. Let this unsavory minority be clearly identified as not your typical Islamic neighbor.


Posted by warner65, a resident of another community,
on Feb 28, 2017 at 9:57 am

warner65 is a registered user.

thanks for the information

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 28, 2017 at 2:10 pm

It's reasonable to request that fellow Americans stop using the term RIT.

It has proven harmful to individuals/communities and led to organized violence and death in a few instances.

Just because you may appreciate the term RIT, I believe that you could be equally happy and feel better knowing that you're not contributing to the violence against innocent individuals/communities.

Numerous sites have been attacked by some Trump inspired vandals. You could be next. It matters that we try to look out for others.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 1, 2017 at 6:53 am

Hi Sean -- it's interesting, I've been thinking about writing something about those terms: 'elites' and 'elitists.' I think they mean different things to many different people, and they've become something of a code word for some folks.

What do those words mean to you?

So Roz (welcome back!), you'd have 'Radical' modifying 'Islamic' instead of 'Terrorism?' I see your point, though I'm dubious whether that's what the likes of the tweeter-in-chief and his minions have in-mind.

Posted by Raccoon, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 1, 2017 at 10:49 am

So, Tom �" what name and acronym would you suggest?

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 2, 2017 at 8:33 am

Be careful and pay attention:

FYI: Web Link

Report any suspicious activity. We all have a right to be safe in our places of worship.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 2, 2017 at 9:13 am

Hi Raccoon: terms I've seen used include insurgent, fighter, guerilla, thug, extremist, zealot, fanatic, a noun associated with the action (car or suicide bomber), revolutionary, a geographic modifier, or the group name itself (they are often not easy on the American ear, but they need to be understood as different from each other).

The point is to avoid falsely tarring an entire faith community with a term that applies to an infinitessimally small fraction of their adherents, who pervert the tenets of the faith to their own revolutionary political purposes. We see the damage done in the current Administration's exploitation of the irrational fear induced by the term. It's wrong and ultimately unAmerican, in my view. Our better angels demand better of us.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 2, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Someone has flagged Sean's comment above, three times. If you have a continuing concern, would you email me with it? I didn't necessarily enjoy that comment, but I need to understand why reader(s) found it to be flaggedly offensive.


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Canyon Meadows,
on Mar 5, 2017 at 12:58 pm

As I c it, Kosher certification is sometimes in the label...i rest my case!

just trying to clarify a certain matter...

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