Clinton: 'We are not at war with Islam'

  • 15/11/2015
Democratic 2016 US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (AAP)
Democratic 2016 US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (AAP)

White House hopeful Hillary Clinton called for global unity to crush the Islamic State group, as the carnage in Paris took centre stage at the Democratic presidential debate.

The three candidates began their debate with a moment of silence for the victims in France, bringing Friday's horrific attacks an ocean away to the forefront of the 2016 race as they dominated the first half hour of the political showdown.

Clinton, liberal US Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley united in calling for the destruction of the jihadists accused of massacring at least 129 people in the French capital.

"We are not at war with Islam," said the former secretary of state, choosing her words with care as she warned ordinary Muslims should not be viewed as a threat.

"We are at war with violent extremism.

"Our prayers are with the people of France tonight, but that is not enough," she said, calling for global resolve to defeat IS, "a barbaric, ruthless, violent jihadist terrorist group."

IS claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on a Paris concert hall, restaurants and bars, and outside France's national stadium - calling it retribution for French air strikes in Syria.

With all the talk of battling the jihadist wave, the Democrats on stage refused to use the term "radical Islam", which moderators used Saturday - and Republicans in the presidential race have used throughout the campaign - to describe the scourge.

"Let's not fall into the trap of thinking our Muslim-American neighbours... are the enemy," O'Malley said.

Former Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush spoke up from afar during the debate, tweeting: "Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism."

While Democrats displayed equal determination to eradicate jihadism, fissures appeared between the candidates on whether the US should lead the struggle.

Clinton said American leadership was critical in the effort, with all the diplomatic tools at Washington's disposal beyond just military might, "but this cannot be an American fight".

"This actually is America's fight," O'Malley insisted.

"America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world."

Sanders argued that the Iraq war, which then-senator Clinton voted to authorise in 2002, laid the foundation for the surging jihadist threat that again sowed carnage on Friday.

With 79 days before the first state-wide vote in Iowa, frontrunner Clinton has reinforced her status as the woman to beat in the race.

Her poll numbers have risen steadily since mid-September, to more than 54 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics average. Sanders is at 33 percent, while O'Malley is languishing at three percent.