Since the last Democratic presidential candidates' debate last on Saturday, I have been thinking about what is the proper term for those who carried out the attack in Paris. Of course there is the specific group with which they are affiliated, which is best labeled "Da'esh," which is the Arabic name for them (from an acronym). "Islamic State" and its relatives "ISIS" and "ISIL," which are competing acronyms granting them this "statehood," that they do not deserve are inappropriate.
But the more difficult question is the one that was posed at the beginning of the debate to the candidates: do you join the Republicans in calling the broader movement "radical Islam"? While they sort of muddled things by saying that one should not "oppose all Muslims," that is not of course what the term "radical Islam" means, although it is not unreasonable to see that many completely peaceful Muslims might be offended by its use. More precisely, however, the issue is violence. So, there may well be Muslims who follow "radical" interpretations of Islam. But such interpretations do not necessarily mean that these people support violently attacking innocent people as the those killing people in Paris were doing (as well as those killing people in Beirut a few days earlier). While there may be some "radical economists" who support violent actions, most do not. The word "radical" does not necessarily imply violence, even when attached to the word "Islam."
So what about "jihadi," the term used by Hillary Clinton in responding to the question? Well, the problem here is that there is more than one meaning to the word "jihad" as it is used in the Qur'an. So, yes, those engaging in war for Islam get this label, but the more frequent use of the term has been to mean an internal spiritual struggle, a struggle that has nothing whatsoever to do with violence. So, using the term "jihadi" also has problems.
This extends arguably also to the slightly better term that Martin O'Malley used, "radical jihadi," which suffers from both of the problems noted above. Neither term unequivocally implies the aggressive violence directed at innocent persons that is what is the real problem here. Again, a radical jihadi could be someone who is engaged in an internal spiritual struggle, but one that is very profound and wrenching, a radical struggle that goes to their roots, but one that involves no violence.
So, I propose that the proper term is "violent jihadi." This implies someone who is engaging in violent action for the purpose of religious war who also happens to be Muslim. I doubt these politicians will pick up on this, but this term is accurate and I would also hope inoffensive.