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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006, 01:18 GMT 02:18 UK
Bush's language angers US Muslims
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington

George W Bush with Islamic leaders at the Islamic Center, 18 Sept 2001
Mr Bush appeared with Muslim leaders soon after 9/11
In the days after the horror of the 11 September attacks, President George W Bush made a point of saying Muslims per se were not America's enemy.

But in the five years since then, he has taken less care to emphasise that message, US Muslim leaders are saying.

They are upset about his use of terms like "Islamic fascists", which he used this week both for Hezbollah and the suspected bomb plotters held in the UK.

"It offends the vast majority of moderate Muslims," Ahmed Younis said.

"The use of the term casts a shadow upon Islam and bolsters the argument that there is a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West," Mr Younis, the national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (Mpac), told the BBC.

He said it was wrong to link the actions of violent Muslims to their religion.

"There is nothing Islamic about their fascism. The Prophet [Muhammad] and the Koran clearly articulate that this type of activity is outside of bounds for Muslims."

Regular refrain

Mr Bush used the term on at least two separate occasions this week.

On Monday, during a press conference from his ranch in Texas, he said terrorists "try to spread their jihadist message - a message I call ... Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism".

George W Bush at Austin airport, Texas, 10 August 2006

A moment later, he said "Islamo-fascism" was an "ideology that is real and profound".

Then, on Thursday after the arrest in Britain of two dozen people suspected of plotting of bomb planes travelling to the US, he said "Islamic fascists... will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom".

That day, the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to him to complain.

Its chairman Parvez Ahmed condemned his "use of ill-defined hot-button terms", which, he said, "feeds the perception that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam".

The council had not had a reply from the White House as of Friday afternoon, its legal director Arsalan Iftikhar told the BBC.

Neither the White House nor the State Department responded to BBC requests for clarification of the term.

Mr Younis of Mpac said he believed the president's use of the term was "a mistake" and that Mr Bush's speechwriters would drop it in the future.

He added that the idea that "there is a school of thought called Islamic fascism is a misnomer".

'Different breed'

Security expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the term was meaningless.

"There is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term," he said.

Display of Korans on sale by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, 2004 file photo
Muslim leaders say the Koran does not justify terrorism

"This is an epithet, a way of arousing strong emotion and tarnishing one's opponent, but it doesn't tell us anything about the content of their beliefs.

"The people who are trying to kill us, Sunni jihadist terrorists, are a very, very different breed."

Zeinab Chami, a Muslim community activist in Dearborn, Michigan - home to one of the largest Arab communities in the US - said the administration had seized upon a new term to frighten people.

"I think the word terrorism has lost its edge. They are looking for something with a little more oomph."

And she is afraid that such language does have an effect on how Americans view Muslims.

"In the post-9/11 era, people are apt to fear Islam. These terms get thrown around so easily and it builds upon a foundation of fear that has already been instilled."

In fact, a Gallup poll released the day of the arrests in Britain showed that two out of five Americans admit to feeling prejudice against Muslims.

In Washington, Mr Younis said the president's linking of Islam with fascism would alienate "moderate Muslims who are needed at the front line of any effort to counter terrorism or extremism by Muslims".

But in Michigan, Ms Chami said it was already too late to worry about indelicate phrases.

"Members of the Muslim community here do not believe in the administration. They rightfully discount much of what President Bush says. People have closed their ears to him."

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