At Saturday night's Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton argued that it's not just wrong to broadly blame all of Islam for the acts of radical terrorists, but also potentially dangerous to America's national security interests.
I think that you can talk about Islamists who clearly are also jihadists. But I think it's not particularly helpful.
To make the case that Sen. Sanders was just making that I agree with, we've got to reach out to Muslim countries, we've got to have them be part of our coalition. If they hear people running for president who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam, that was one of the real contributions — despite all the other problems that George W. Bush made after 9/11 — when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, we are not at war with Islam or Muslims. We are at war with violent extremism. 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.
Since Muslim nations are crucial to fighting terrorist organizations in the Middle East — Jordan, for one, has participated in airstrikes against ISIS — potentially ostracizing these allies by decrying all of Islam can actually make taking on terrorism more difficult.
This isn't a solely Democratic idea. Like Clinton said, former President George W. Bush also cautioned against blaming all Muslims for terrorist attacks following 9/11. "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," Bush said in his September 17, 2001, address. "That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace."
As my colleague Zack Beauchamp explained, this was a strategic decision for Bush:
This was partly strategic, a way to undercut jihadists' narrative of representing "true" Islam in a religious war against the US. But Bush, who emphasized Muslim contributions to human civilization and to the US, also seemed earnestly concerned about combating any backlash against Muslims in the US.
Under this view, blaming all Muslims for terrorist attacks isn't just wrong, it also makes it more difficult to win the war on terror.