Do we need to talk about 'radical Islam'?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeated his call for Muslim immigrants to be refused entry to the USReuters

Radical Islam. Two simple words that are packed full of weight and meaning.

Donald Trump couldn't even wait 24 hours before he turned the Orlando shooting into a political opportunity. In a statement released on Sunday he savaged President Barack Obama's response to the attack.

"In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words 'Radical Islam'. For that reason alone, he should step down," said Trump. "If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words 'Radical Islam' she should get out of this race for the Presidency.

"If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore. Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen – and it is only going to get worse. I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack.

"We can't afford to be politically correct anymore."

It is highly unlikely this will cause either Clinton or Obama to use the phrase and even more unlikely Obama will see the need to resign off the back Trump's call. But the frustration at Obama's refusal to use "radical Islam" to describe terrorist attacks is longstanding and Trump harnessed a lot of discontent to his advantage. Grassroot Republicans and a number of right-wing journalists see a flippant political correctness in the refusal to name and shame Islam.

Trump's statement is actually a re-hash of a statement issued by his former rival Ted Cruz in the wake of the San Bernadino attack last December. Obama "literally will not utter the words 'radical Islamic terrorism'" said Cruz, "and as matter of policy, nobody in the administration will say the words 'radical Islamic terrorism."

This is true. Obama has described Islamic State as "thugs", "killers" or "terrorists", but has specifically distanced the jihadist group from the Muslim faith. And the resentment runs raw among those who want politicians to 'say it how it is'.

But this isn't particular to Obama's administration.

Republican bastion George W. Bush never once used the phrase "radical Islam". In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Bush said: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace, they represent evil and war."

Then again in an address to Congress after 9/11, Bush said the terrorists were "traitors to their own faith". He added: "I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world: We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."

US President Barack Obama gave a statement about the worst mass shooting in US history that took place in Orlando, Florida.Reuters

"Radical" means it relates to the fundamental or root nature of something. So by describing terrorist attacks as originating from "radical Islam", the implication is that violence and terrorism is inherent to Islam's teaching.

While some theologians might be happy to say violence is inherent to Islam, it's obvious why politicians are less relaxed about it. In order to defeat Islamist terrorism, governments need the support of the majority of Muslims. 

Not to mention that Wahhabism, which is the same strand of Islam supported by al-Qaeda and to some extent ISIS, is a dominant presence in America's key ally in the Middle East. "There is a two-ton elephant in the room, and that is Saudi Arabia," said Emile Nakhleh, a former CIA expert on political Islam, according to Bloomberg View.

Presidents know that in order to win the war on terrorism, Saudi Arabia – as well as the majority of Muslims – must be kept on side.

So what about the rest of use who aren't politicians? Should we use the term "radical Islam" in reference to terrorist attacks?

Well, I'm not sure. We may not have the pressure of having to court the Saudis, but by its definition terror is an attack on the West's freedom and way of life. And so we as Western citizens each have a responsibility in ensuring its defeat.

Many theologians and some politicians will take great delight in quoting passages from the Qur'an that appear to advocate violence and killing in the name of Allah. But what's the point in that? Anyone can Google verses in holy books that make uncomfortable reading. But does it bring us any closer to an answer? Does it serve any purpose other than to say these verses exist?

There is a genuine debate to be had around certain suras in the Qur'an and some of the hadith, just as there has been and continues to be rigorous debate around certain passages in the Bible. There is no doubt troublesome passages exist and need to be wrestled with. But that is a sideline event compared to the battle against terrorism.

Millions of Muslims live in our cities, towns and communities and – thankfully – there's nothing Trump can do about it. So we have a choice. We can either welcome them and allow them to join our side against terror. Or we can tar them with the same brush and say their religion is fundamentally violent.

When it comes to defeating terror, I know which tactic I prefer.