Donald Trump’s recent incendiary claims that President Obama is the founder of the international terrorist organization known as ISIS and that its followers would like to see Hillary Clinton become our next president, raises the issue of whether an organization like ISIS has an interest in our national election.
As the delusional vision to reestablish an Islamic caliphate wanes, another important objective will become vital to ISIS; namely the desire to foment a fundamental clash of civilizations that results in a holy war between Islam and Western powers.
ISIS wants the West to fear and distrust Islam. It wants us to believe that the terrorist enemy is the Muslim community itself, rather than an organization that perverts the teachings of Islam and attracts criminal elements and/or aimless young people to their ranks. They want us to be afraid of any and all Muslims, recent immigrants and citizens alike, who live among us.
Accordingly, the interests of ISIS are advanced when any Western politician advocates policies that drive a political and cultural wedge between Islam and the West. Their interests are served when any political figure talks about rounding up and deporting Muslims or prohibiting them from entering Western countries. Their interests are served when politicians stoke the flame of suspicion and fear to portray our relationship with Muslim communities and Islam as “us versus them” and threaten to take any action pitting non-Muslim and Muslim communities against one another.
ISIS must and will be defeated militarily in Iraq and Syria. This process has begun. But their ability to orchestrate terror attacks remains a reality. One of the significant challenges before the world is to develop a greater understanding of why disaffected Muslim youth are motivated to join organizations like ISIS and become suicide bombers? In the 20th century, they might have become socialists or perhaps ardent Arab nationalists. Now they are steered towards religious extremism. Why are these radical organizations attractive? And what are the main sources of recruitment? Unemployed youth? Petty criminals?
As always, the way to undermine religious extremism is by establishing alliances that empower moderate leaders. We defeat the extreme by bolstering the center. It is imperative that Western nations reach out to moderate religious and civic leaders in Muslim communities both in the West and around the world. When Western leaders fail to distinguish between moderates and extremists and lump them all together, they promote the clash of civilization ideology adopted by religious extremists and strengthen their ability to recruit foot soldiers bent on generating more terror.
In fact, it seems entirely plausible to assume that during this presidential campaign, the US and other Western nations will be at greater risk for acts of terrorism, as ISIS seeks to goad the US and other Western nations to crackdown on and/or deport Muslims. Their aim is clear: to fuel more hatred towards Muslim communities in the West and towards Islam in general. Reprisals against Muslims would verify, in their eyes, that a clash of civilizations exists and that a holy war between Islam and the West should be pursued. Therefore any political candidate of any party who sows fear of Muslims and Islam, would represent their choice to become the next American president.
Neal Aponte, Ph.D. Editor of Delano