Let us take a brief moment to review the scorecard. All of those people—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY), Rachel Maddow, NYT columnists Frank Bruni and Thomas Friedman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the many, many others—who said Trump’s rhetoric plays right into the hands of Islamic extremists were spot on. They were not just drum-beating to rally their side against the other, sparring for attention, or using hyperbole for political currency. No, they understand the unique danger posed by Trump’s unbridled xenophobia and fear-driven bigotry given the nature of Islamist militant groups, who also rely on the mass exploitation of fear and jingoistic fervor to collect influence.
And now those warnings have rung true. We now have confirmation that Trump has surfaced in a recruitment film for Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist group. Alas, Islamism need only outsource its mobilization efforts to the GOP frontrunner. As an American, I am ashamed of my country for enabling and elevating a demagogue such as this.
In testimony to the U.S. Senate and the UN Security Council, anthropologist and terrorism expert Scott Atran has ingeminated how groups like ISIS reappropriate felt grievances by connecting them to “a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims.” This has proved a winning strategy to date, and the collective broad-brushing that has been mainstreamed by GOP campaigners only helps reinforce the ‘Islam vs. the West’ narrative, thereby strengthening and emboldening the cause of groups like ISIS and Al-Shabab.
The conflation of ISIS with the Muslim majority, and the public venom targeting American Muslims that inevitably follows, is precisely what the Obama administration has sought to avoid. After 9/11, countrified folks perceived all Muslims as terrorists. By being careful to separate groups like ISIS from Islam more generally, Obama has tirelessly strove to fend off the same type of ignorance and hysteria. And because this attitude of broad hostility toward Muslim people—otherwise known as Islamophobia—is endemic here in the U.S. and throughout parts of Western Europe, and feeds the very terrorism we all wish to suppress, it is the onus of liberals, conservatives and everyone in between to continue to condemn Trump and Co.’s incendiary remarks as not merely ignorant but actively and broadly harmful.