August 10, 2006

Muslims slam Bush term “Islamic fascists”

By Amanda Beck

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Muslim groups criticized
President George W. Bush on Thursday for calling a foiled plot
to blow up airplanes part of a "war with Islamic fascists,"
saying the term could inflame anti-Muslim tensions.

U.S. officials have said the plot, thwarted by Britain, to
blow up several aircraft over the Atlantic bore many of the
hallmarks of al Qaeda.

"We believe this is an ill-advised term and we believe that
it is counter-productive to associate Islam or Muslims with
fascism," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations advocacy group.

"We ought to take advantage of these incidents to make sure
that we do not start a religious war against Islam and
Muslims," he told a news conference in Washington.

"We urge him (Bush) and we urge other public officials to
restrain themselves."

Awad said U.S. officials should take the lead from their
British counterparts who had steered clear of using what he
considered inflammatory terms when they announced the arrest of
more than 20 suspects in the reported plot.

Hours after the news broke, Bush said it was "a stark
reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who
will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to
hurt our nation."

Bush and other administration officials have used
variations of the term "Islamo-fascism" on several occasions in
the past to describe militant groups including al Qaeda, its
allies in Iraq and Hizbollah in Lebanon.

Many American Muslims, who say they have felt singled out
for discrimination since the September 11 attacks, reject the
term and say it unfairly links their faith to notions of
dictatorship, oppression and racism.

"The problem with the phrase is it attaches the religion of
Islam to tyranny and fascism, rather than isolating the threat
to a specific group of individuals," said Edina Lekovic,
spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los

She said the terms cast suspicions on all Muslims, even the
vast majority who want to live in safety like other Americans.

"When the people we need most in the fight against
terrorism, American Muslims, feel alienated by the president's
characterization of these supposed terrorists, that does more
damage than good," Lekovic said.

Bush upset many Muslims after the September 11 attacks by
referring to the global war against terrorism early on as a
"crusade," a term which for many Muslims connotes a Christian
battle against Islam. The White House quickly stopped using the
expression, expressing regrets if it had caused offense.

Mohamed Elibiary, a Texas-based Muslim activist, said he
was upset by the president's latest comments because he was
concerned they would stir up resentment of Muslims in America.

"We've got Osama bin Laden hijacking the religion in order
to define it one way. ... We feel the president and anyone
who's using these kinds of terminologies is hijacking it too
from a different side," he said.

"The president's use of the language is going to ratchet up
the hate meter, but I think it would have caused much more
damage if he had done this after 9/11," Elibiary said, adding
that tensions were not running as high as they had been in the
immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks.

Awad, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called
on Muslims to step up security at mosques and community centers
to counter any negative backlash to news of the plot.