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Democrats debate use of term ‘radical Islam’

DES MOINES, Iowa (BP) — In a debate the day following terrorist attacks in Paris, all three Democratic presidential candidates declined to use the term “radical Islam” to describe Muslim terrorist organizations when asked if they “agree with that characterization.”

One candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, argued there is “a war for the soul of Islam” between ISIS and Muslim nations.

No candidate mentioned abortion or same-sex marriage during the Nov. 14 debate in Des Moines, Iowa, though former secretary of state Hillary Clinton referred to the “alarming plans” of Republican presidential candidates and added immediately, “I mean, all of us support funding Planned Parenthood.” Her comment presumably referenced GOP proposals to defund America’s largest abortion provider after undercover videos allegedly showed Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of body parts from aborted babies.

The subject of fighting terrorism dominated the first segment of the debate, with a notable exchange occurring when moderator John Dickerson of CBS News asked the candidates whether they agreed with Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s statement that the West is at war with “radical Islam.”

Clinton responded “that you can talk about Islamists who are clearly jihadists” but said using the term radical Islam is “not particularly helpful” in the quest to build a coalition of Muslim nations to oppose ISIS. She said America is not at war with Islam or Muslims, citing former Republican President George W. Bush’s agreement with that point.

“We are at war with violent extremism,” Clinton said. “We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression. And, yes, we are at war with those people. But I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush.”

Sanders said “the term” used to describe terrorists isn’t “what’s important. What is important to understand is we have organizations, whether it is ISIS or al Qaeda, who do believe we should go back several thousand years, we should make women third-class citizens, that we should allow children to be sexually assaulted. They are a danger to modern society.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said he believes in calling ISIS “what it is”: “radical jihadis.” He warned against “falling into the trap of thinking that all of our Muslim American neighbors in this country are somehow our enemies.”

Clinton repeatedly used terms like “jihadi extreme terrorism” and “jihadi radicalism.” The apparent intentionality of their word choice contributed to headlines like Politico’s “Democrats carefully avoid saying ‘Islam'” and Fox News’s “Democratic candidates avoid term ‘radical Islam’ in debate.”

Sanders noted Muslim nations in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Jordan, must “get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground” and “take on ISIS.”

“This is a war for the soul of Islam,” Sanders said. “And those countries who are opposed to” ISIS are “going to have to get deeply involved [in the fight] in a way that is not the case today. We should be supportive of that effort. So should the U.K. So should France. But those Muslim countries are going to have to lead the effort.”

Among the candidates’ other comments on Islamic terrorism:

— Clinton said ISIS “cannot be contained; it must be defeated.”

— Clinton said the war against ISIS “cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”

— O’Malley said the war with ISIS “actually is America’s fight,” but “it cannot solely be America’s fight.”

— Sanders stood by his assertion in a previous debate that climate change is the greatest threat to American national security.

“In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism,” Sanders said. “And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world — this is what the C.I.A. says — they’re going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops, and you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”

The next Democratic presidential debate will occur Dec. 19 in Manchester, N.H.