WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on Sunday reiterated President Barack Obama's contention that the Islamic State should not be referred to as a branch of "radical Islam" because the term grants the terrorist group religious legitimacy.
"In our engagements around the country -- I do a lot of these myself in Muslim communities, Islamic cultural centers -- the thing I hear from leaders in the Muslim community in this country is 'ISIL is attempting to hijack my religion. Our religion is about peace and brotherhood. ISIL is attempting to hijack that from us,'" Johnson told "Fox News Sunday," referring to the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL or ISIS. "They resent that. Most victims of ISIL are Muslim. It seems to me to refer to ISIL as occupying any part of the Islamic theology is playing on a battlefield that they would like us to be on."
"I think that to call them some form of Islam gives the group more dignity than it deserves," Johnson added.
Johnson's remarks echoed similar comments made by Obama earlier this week. "They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists," the president said at a White House summit on violent extremism. "We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."
Some conservatives, including several who followed Johnson on "Fox News Sunday," have seized on Obama's comments, insisting that he does not fully understand the motivations of groups like the Islamic State or al Qaeda.
"The American people are justifiably upset with a president who lectures us on the Crusades but is unwilling to call Islamic extremism by name," Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) said on the show.
Other pundits find the entire semantic exercise to be meaningless.
"It is not clear what needs to be done in fighting ISIS," USA Today columnist Kristen Powers told Fox. " I don't think it is an open and shut case. As much as Republicans have been critical of Obama, they haven't given a lot of great ideas other than constantly attacking him [on what to call ISIS]."