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Eric Holder: I Don't Worry Too Much About Terminology Debate On Islamic Extremism

"I think that people need to actually think about that and think about really, are we having this conversation about words as opposed to what our actions ought to be?"

Posted on February 17, 2015, at 3:25 p.m. ET

Pool / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday dismissed conservative critics of the Obama administration who have accused the president of downplaying the religious leanings of violent extremists.

"We spend more time, more time talking about what do you call it as opposed to what do you do about it," Holder said. "If Fox didn't talk about this, they would have nothing else to talk about, it would seem to me. 'Radical Islam,' 'Islamic extremism,' you know, I'm not sure an awful lot is gained by saying that."

Conservatives have criticized the administration for, they say, shying away from mentioning Islam when talking about recent terrorist attacks. President Obama has said those labels alienate the vast majority of Muslims who share in the horror at terrorism and dismiss the self-proclaimed religious motivation of groups like ISIS.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Holder dismissed the debate itself as a sideshow.

"It doesn't have any impact on our military posture. It doesn't have any impact on what we call it on the policies that we put in place," he said. "What we have to do is defined not by the terms that we use, but by the facts on the ground. So I don't worry an awful lot about what the appropriate terminology ought to be. I think that people need to actually think about that and think about really, are we having this conversation about words as opposed to what our actions ought to be?"

Holder said fighting terrorism is a "difficult problem" and an "ongoing issue," but the words used to describe terrorists, he said, have no bearing in it.

"The terminology, has, it seems to me, little or no impact on what ultimately we have to do," Holder said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.