A divide is emerging on the presidential campaign trail over battling terrorists: how exactly to label the fight. While Democrats tend to talk about terrorism in general, Republicans increasingly pin the threat directly on Islam.

All the major Republican candidates regularly weave some form of the phrase “Islamic extremism” into their stump speeches. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken the rhetoric to a new level, running a television advertisement about “this century’s nightmare, jihadism.”

Democratic candidates generally don’t emphasize linking Islam and terrorism. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton talks more of “global terrorism,” while Sen. Barack Obama refers to “stateless terrorism.”

“In four Democratic debates, not a single Democratic candidate said the word ‘Islamic terrorism,'” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at a Republican debate. “Now that is taking a political correctness to extremes.”

Those who like the Republican candidates’ choice of language say it reflects the reality of who threatens America the most. “Everybody ought to call an ace an ace,” says Jim Gorsh, a 62-year-old retiree who heard Mr. Romney speak in Clinton, Iowa, earlier this month.

Others, including some Arab-American groups, say the constant references to Islamic terrorists, even if meant to refer only to a single radical strand of Islam, may end up tarring the entire religion. After a group of conservative academics declared last week “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” David Halperin, a senior vice president at the Democratic-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, criticized the effort. “To continue to harp on the idea that Islamo-fascism is the source of terrorism is to suggest that all Muslims are terrorists,” Mr. Halperin said.

The Republican tone might alienate Arab-American voters, says James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group. There are about 3.5 million Arab-Americans in the U.S., according to Dr. Zogby, and they make up as much as 7% of the electorate in one key state, Michigan. “People are quite startled and frightened” by the Republican phraseology, he said.

Mr. Romney, whose father, George Romney, was a Michigan governor, says his rhetoric is designed to win over Muslims, not offend them. “In the end, only Muslims themselves can defeat the violent radicals,” he says in “Strategy for a Stronger America,” a pamphlet describing his proposed policies. “But we must work with them.”

Mr. Romney’s invocation of the word “jihad” is a source of controversy. “Jihad” is an Arabic word found in the Quran that roughly translates to mean “struggle.” What that struggle is, or how it should be carried out, is less clear. Terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, use it to refer to holy war, or religious struggles to purify Islam. Many Muslims prefer a more peaceful definition, representing a quest for self-betterment. . .

The interpretation of jihad as extremist and violent disturbs Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. He says Mr. Romney’s use of “jihad” legitimizes claims by terrorists that they are fighting on behalf of Islam.

Democratic presidential candidates rarely invoke Islam when discussing terrorism. In a 3,800-word speech titled “A New Strategy Against Terrorism,” former Sen. John Edwards used the word “Islamic” once. He did so in that instance to say Republicans were making a mistake by using rhetoric that could frame the battle against terrorists as a war of civilizations. (MORE)


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