President Barack Obama has responded to conservative criticism centered on his refusal to identify ISIS as "Islamic" by stating that that would be precisely what the terror group wants, and he does not want to legitimize the jihadists.
"These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists' narrative," Obama said at the State Department on Thursday, using another name for ISIS.
The president insisted that tying ISIS to a specific religion is a "lie" that would encourage the terror group and hurt America's interests.
Obama has faced various criticism for how his administration has presented the war on ISIS, with evangelical preacher Rev. Franklin Graham and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins both asking why the President did not immediately identify the 21 Egyptians who were beheaded by ISIS earlier this week as "Christians."
"The truth is — their barbaric murderers openly said they killed them because they were 'people of the cross.' Why is the president seemingly continuing to protect Islam and refusing to open his eyes to the truth?" Graham asked.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has accused Obama of working against Christians and Jews and supporting only the Muslim community.
"The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn't matter whether it's the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community," Huckabee said earlier this month.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly added in a separate statement: "The Holy War is here, and unfortunately it seems the president will be the last to acknowledge it," he said, referring to Obama's refusal to link Islam with ISIS.
After an op-ed by Obama in the LA Times on Tuesday, which described the 21 murdered Egyptians as "Christians," Southern Evangelical Seminary President Dr. Richard Land praised this "first step," but said that ISIS militants need to be identified as "radical Islamic jihadists."
The Coptic Christians, kidnapped by masked gunmen from Libya in December and January, were beheaded by the jihadists in a video sent out on social media and titled "A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross."
On Thursday Obama explained, however, why linking ISIS to Islam could be a dangerous choice.
"That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence, and that hurts all of us, including Islam and especially Muslims who are the ones most likely to be killed," he said.
In the op-ed, Obama insisted that the "overwhelming majority" of Muslims in the world reject the ideology of ISIS and other jihadist groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
"The world must continue to lift up the voices of Muslim clerics and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of Islam. We can echo the testimonies of former extremists who know how terrorists betray Islam," Obama said.