WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's recent move to drop rhetorical references to Islamic radicalism is drawing fire in a new report warning that the decision ignores the role religion can play in motivating terrorists.
Several prominent counterterror experts are challenging the administration's shift in its recently unveiled National Security Strategy, saying the terror threat should be defined to aid fighting it.
The question of how to frame the conflict against al-Qaida and other terrorists poses a knotty problem. The United States is trying to mend fences with Muslim commu- nities while toughening its strikes against militant groups.
In the report, scheduled to be released this week, counterterrorism experts from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank that seeks to "advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East," argue that the United States could clearly articulate the threat from radical Islamic extremists "without denigrating the Islamic religion in any way."
President Barack Obama has argued that the use of inflammatory descriptions linking Islam to the terror threat feed the enemy's propaganda and may alienate moderate Muslims in the United States.
In unveiling a new National Security Strategy in May, administration officials said the shift in emphasis was critical in undercutting al-Qaida's efforts to portray its attacks on the United States and the West as a justified holy war.
But in the report, obtained by The Associated Press, the analysts warn that U.S. diplomacy must sharpen the distinction between the Muslim faith and violent Islamist extremism, identify radicalizers within Islamic communities and empower voices to contest the radical teachings.
The administration's approach of stepping up counterterror operations while tamping down its rhetoric, the critics argue, needs to include an ideological counterattack that empowers moderate Islamic voices and contests extremist narratives.
"There is an ideology that is driving al-Qaida and its affiliates," said Matt Levitt, an author of the study on countering violent extremism.