Absent from a 192-word statement from White House press secretary Josh Earnest condemning the brutal killings were the words “Christian,” “Coptic,” “Islam” or “Muslim.”
There was a single reference to “faith” – “ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity.”
“ISIL” is one of several acronyms for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also called simply “Islamic State” or “Da’esh,” an Arabic acronym. Earnest's statement did not spell out the group's full name – thus sidestepping the word "Islamic" altogether – calling it merely “ISIL.”
In a gruesome video posted online the jihadist group claimed responsibility for the mass beheadings of Christians abducted in Libya.
The video was entitled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross” and the victims were described as “crusaders.” An article in ISIS’ propaganda publication urged Muslims everywhere to kill “crusaders,” promising those who do “a great reward … on Judgment Day.”
Pope Francis did not shy away from the clear religious motivation behind the mass beheading.
“They were murdered just because they were Christians,” he said during a meeting with a Scottish church leader, calling the victims “brothers, who died simply because they professed their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Yet despite the religious affiliation of the terrorists and those they beheaded, and the jihadists’ blatant religious incitement, Earnest’s statement referred merely to “Egyptian citizens” and “ISIL-affiliated terrorists.”
“The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists,” it said. “We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens. ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity.”
There was no public reaction to the killings from President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry, but the State Department said Kerry had called his Egyptian counterpart “in the aftermath of the horrific video showing the murder of 21 Egyptians.”
“The secretary offered his condolences on behalf of the American people and strongly condemned the despicable act of terror,” it said. “Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister [Sameh] Shoukry agreed to keep in close touch as Egyptians deliberated on a response.”
This week the White House hosts a three-day “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)” – a term it began favoring several years ago instead of countering terrorism – with the stated aim of highlighting international and domestic efforts to prevent the radicalization, recruiting or inspiring of individuals or groups to commit acts of violence.
First announced last September, the summit was meant to be held the following month but was postponed without explanation.
When Earnest last month announced the February date, he did so in a statement that mentioned the “recent, tragic attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris,” but again without identifying the religious affiliation and declared religious motivation of those responsible.
White House officials briefing reporters on background Monday said this week's summit would not focus only on ISIS, since violent extremists “come in all shapes and sizes.”
Asked about use of the phrase “vulnerable community,” one of the briefing officials said, “we want to be clear that the evidence doesn’t show that there’s any particular community – there’s no profile that we can point to say this person is from this community, is going to be radicalized to violence.”
Notwithstanding the evident pains being taken by administration officials to avoid identifying the challenge as “Islamic” or “Islamist,” some Muslim groups are leery of the CVE effort and the summit.