State Department: ‘This Isn’t About a Religion’

Patrick Goodenough | March 22, 2016 | 8:24pm EDT
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A kneeling man looks at flowers and condolence messages placed outside the stock exchange in Brussels hours after Tuesday’s deadly terror attack. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

( – Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Brussels was not about religion but a “depraved ideology,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“This isn’t about a religion,” he said. “This is about a warped and brutal, depraved ideology that continues to be attractive to a small number of people in the Muslim faith – radicals and extremists.”

“And we don’t believe that it is indicative in any way of the Muslim faith or the people who practice Islam as a religion,” Kirby continued. “But it is a group that remains deadly, remains lethal. And we are going to remain focused on defeating them.”

Kirby was asked about Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump reaction to the deadly attack in the Belgian capital. In interviews Tuesday, Trump repeated calls for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

In an interview with Fox Business, Trump raised concerns about the visa waiver program.

“It’s time to stop that absolutely,” he said. “Frankly, look, we’re having problems with the Muslims, and we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country …”

“We’ve talked about public comments on the campaign trail and the impact that they are or are not having,” Kirby said when asked during the briefing if Trump’s comments undermine the department’s diplomatic efforts. “I let the candidates speak for themselves about their views.”

Kirby said the attacks in Brussels showed that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) – which he noted had claimed responsibility – “is still capable of this kind of violence.”

“And we have to take that threat seriously, and we are.”

Obama administration officials have actively shied away from using terms like “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism” when discussing the terror threat, embracing instead the term “violent extremism.”

The White House last year hosted a summit on “countering violent extremism (CVE)” and the State Department recently renamed its counterterrorism bureau the “bureau of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism.”

Police and rescue teams are pictured outside the metro station Maelbeek in Brussels, Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

In his response to Tuesday’s attacks, Trump’s GOP rival Sen. Ted Cruz criticized what he suggested was an unwillingness in the West to identify the source of the problem.

“For years, the West has tried to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear,” he said in a statement. “We can no longer afford either. Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods. We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here.”

Cruz also called for U.S. law enforcement agencies to be empowered “to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director Nihad Awad described Cruz’ call for patrols of Muslim neighborhoods as “unconstitutional” and “unbefitting anyone seeking our nation’s highest office.”

“We urge Ted Cruz to retract his call for fascist-like treatment of American Muslims and to offer an apology to all Americans,” he said.

CAIR also offered condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in Brussels.

“Such heinous attacks are antithetical to the ideals of civilized society,” added CAIR, which describes itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.”

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