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Here's why politicians like Bill de Blasio tiptoe around the word 'terrorism'

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Here's why politicians like Bill de Blasio tiptoe around the word 'terrorism'

Watch | How politicians use the word "terrorism" has changed since 9/11 

In the wake of the explosion in New York City this weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio caught some heat for not immediately using the word "terrorism"  to describe the attack.

The reason, de Blasio said, was because there wasn't enough information to justify the term. Authorities now publicly suspect the bombing was carried out by an ISIS-inspired terrorist -- and de Blasio has now officially deemed the attack "terrorism."

There was, however, likely another reason for de Blasio's two-day delay: sensitivity to using a term that could spark hate against Muslim communities.

Is "terrorism" a loaded term?

As hate crimes against Muslims in America surge, some say the word "terrorism" has taken on an anti-Islamic connotation -- and using it before an attack is confirmed could spark Islamophobic behavior.

"I think unfortunately, in our public discourse, terrorism has become equivalent to 'Hey, this guy's a Muslim, and he's doing bad things," Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Circa.

"There's really a sensitivity in the American Muslim community, that any time there's some kind of attack in the U.S., there is a rush to judgment."

Concerns dismissed on the right

This is, however, a distinctly liberal-leaning sentiment, Hamid said.

"I think the further you go leftward, the more you have sensitivity to the way we talk about things like terrorism," he said. "De Blasio is somewhat of a unique politician that he's very much on the left and unapologetically so."

Indeed, politicians on the right slammed de Blasio for initially tip toeing around the term. Here's what former New York City mayor and current Donald Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani told Circa about de Blasio's comments:

Rudy Giuliani blows up Bill de Blasio for bomb response

"[De Blasio] looked like he didn't know what he was doing," Giuliani said. "There seems to be more care and worry that we offend the terrorists than we protect America."

Hamid: Trump caused sensitivity to Islamophobia

But Hamid says it's actually rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that has caused this type of sensitivity from de Blasio and others.

"It's very much an unexpected consequence of the Trump era that as Trump and some in the Republican party have increasingly used anti-Muslim rhetoric, that Democrats have become more comfortable saying 'Hey, this is a red line -- Islamophobia is a real problem.'"

Trump policies target Muslims

Trump has faced numerous accusations of Islamophobia over the course of his campaign, mostly due to the fact that many of his plans to fight terrorism center on policies that would impact Muslims.

Trump has, for instance, called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and surveillance of U.S. mosques. 

These types of policies have emboldened Democrats to push back in various ways, Hamid said.


Democrats push back

One of those ways is being extra careful not to immediately label a suspected attack "terrorism," because of possible negative reverberations in Muslim communities.

Because when terrorism happens -- and it is committed by someone who identifies as ISIS-inspired hate crimes against Muslim Americans do rise. In the one month after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, for instance, there were at least 38 anti-Muslim attacks in America.

Is it all that important, though?

Some terrorism experts, however, disagree that the debate over whether to immediately label an attack "terrorism" without knowing all the facts is actually important.

One of those experts is Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

'A little bit silly'

"I think the debate about whether to label it terrorism or not Is actually a little bit silly," he told Circa. Because no matter what people initially say, the truth will come out.

"Ultimately, you have to learn more about who the perpetrators are, what their motives are in order to really understand the situation -- and that need for more information doesn't change whether or not we label something terrorism right away."


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