Opinion

Trump's Rhetoric on Islam Plays Into Extremists' Hands

Experts Urge More Sophistication on Origins of Jihadism

Encouraging suspicions of and discrimination against U.S. Muslims will undermine efforts to identify and fight homegrown jihadis, Kondracke writes.. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)

Among the many dangerous lies being spread by GOP front-runner Donald Trump is the idea that “Islam hates us.” His approach to terrorism is only going to make it worse.  

As one of the world's top experts on Islamic terrorism said Tuesday, ISIS and other jihadist groups “want to make Muslims in the West feel insecure. Trump is playing right into their hands.”  

The expert, Jessica Stern of Harvard and Boston University, said “the more ISIS can increase hatred for Muslims in the West, the more it succeeds.” Stern, author of several books on terrorism, appeared with another foe of Islamic jihadism, Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University, at the Faith Angle Forum, a seminar for journalists sponsored by a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank, the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  

Both experts asserted that only a tiny fraction of the world's 1.7 Muslims “hate America” or support terrorism—a fact borne out in survey after survey.  

It's true that the United States is viewed unfavorably in many Mideast countries—by 89 percent in Jordan and 60 percent in Lebanon—according to a Pew Research Center poll last year, but U.S. military action against ISIS is favored by nearly similar percentages. According to another 2015 Pew poll, actual support for ISIS in the Muslim world is low—1 percent in Lebanon, 3 percent in Jordan, 9 percent in Pakistan and 14 percent in Nigeria.  

Meantime, U.S. Muslims, according to a new poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, are just as likely to identify as Americans as are Protestants and 68 percent are satisfied with the direction the country is heading in, triple the national average. There are 6 to 7 million Muslims in the United States.  

On the other hand, more than half reported feeling some level of discrimination in the past year and Trump's approval rating is at 4 percent in the U.S. Muslim community.  

Trump is threatening to bar all foreign Muslims from the country, at least temporarily, and perhaps create a registry of U.S. Muslims. And he says he will “bomb the shit” out of ISIS.  

Stern and Antepli side with conservatives who identify Islamic terrorism with Islam—unlike President Barack Obama, who avoids the term. “Let us call it by its right name,” said Antepli. “It is an outgrowth of Islam.”  

He also called it “evil,” “perverted,” “violent” and “despicable.”  

But, to counter ISIS, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, both he and Stern agreed that more than military action is required.  

One step is to either “go after” (Antepli) or “work with” (Stern) Saudi Arabia, whose regime is closely tied to the harsh and “hateful” Wahabi strain of Islam and spends billions spreading Wahabi propaganda around the world.  

Another is what Antepli called “a 21st Century Marshall Plan” to improve attitudes in the Muslim world toward the U.S.  

“Yes, we should kill (ISIS),” he said. “But you can't kill an evil ideology with a bullet. It must be defeated by good ideology and good economics .... Peace-loving Christians and Jews should be supporting peace-loving Muslims.”  

In the United States, local police and federal authorities should not be targeting mosques and Muslim communities, but protecting them from increasing violence and working with them so they'll identify potential jihadis.  

Antepli told the story of a 14-year-old girl in North Carolina who was having a dispute with a friend who said, “I hope Trump is elected and you will disappear.”  

Both experts urged, too, more sophistication among Americans about the origins of jihadism—basically, a widespread sense of humiliation at the collapse of a formerly great scholarly and scientific culture, some the result of defeat by Britain and other colonial powers.  

The United States bears responsibility for the rise of violent Islamic groups, as well. The Reagan administration furnished arms and training to Muslim groups fighting Soviet invaders in Afghanistan in the 1980s, then lost interest as the country was taken over by the Taliban and played host to al Qaeda.  

Then, in 2003, the George W. Bush administration invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, dismantled the largely-Sunni Iraqi army and deprived Sunni office-holders of their employment, leaving them to be preyed upon by majority Shiites. Ex-Iraqi soldiers, still in possession of their weapons, are now ISIS fighters.  

Trump is actually right to say that “a lot” of Muslims “hate us” --in the sense that, if (as Pew found) 14 percent of Nigerians, 9 percent of Pakistanis and 11 percent of Malaysians say they support ISIS.  

But making the Islamic world think that America hates Muslims only supports ISIS's case that an apocalyptic war is under way between Islam and the West.  

And encouraging suspicions of and discrimination against U.S. Muslims will undermine efforts to identify and fight homegrown jihadis.  

Extreme as he is, Trump is effectively an ally of our real enemy.

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