In what might be his most incendiary statement to date, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump put out a press release Monday calling for the U.S. to bar entry to Muslims, including American Muslims, from entering the United States until further notice.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” a campaign press release said. A campaign spokesperson told The Hill that this proposal would include American Muslims reentering the country after traveling abroad.
Trump’s latest proposal is driven with national security in mind. A couple in San Bernardino, California went on a killing spree last week, killing 14 people. ISIS later claimed the couple as followers, while authorities say the wife pledged allegiance to the group on her Facebook page prior to the attacks. In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting and with the Paris attacks still fresh in mind, Trump claims that Muslims pose a “dangerous threat.”
While Trump assumes that stopping Muslims from entering the U.S. would boost domestic security, experts say such rhetoric bolsters the message of extremist groups like ISIS and, in correlation, increases animosity and potential retribution attacks against the U.S.
“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who researches what motivates people to become terrorists, told the Washington Post. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam.’”
One of ISIS’ primary talking points is about eliminating the “grayzone” of coexistence between Muslims and western society. ISIS gains support by convincing vulnerable youths prone to ideological radicalization that the west has an aversion to Islam and, by extension, their families, their various cultures and societies, and them as individuals.
“Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices,” the group published in their online magazine, Dabiq.
Other statements released in Dabiq praised George W. Bush’s words in the aftermath of 9/11. “Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ I.e. either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”
During a reporting trip to Tripoli, Lebanon last year I met the family of Khaled, an 18-year-old who traveled to Iraq and performed a suicide operation for ISIS.
Interviews with his mother, eldest brother, mentor, and others shed light on a man driven by his perception of injustice against Sunnis in Iraq.
“He was a kid, a child,” Mohammad, his brother, told me. “He saw Sunni oppression in Iraq and he told me: ‘The American army is killing us. [Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and Shiite groups are killing us. The Iraqi government is killing us, oppressing us and raping women and killing kids. I want to kill them all.’”
His perception that the world is against Sunnis and contributes to their denigration, pushed him to run away from home and join ISIS. All of Khaled’s family and friends that I spoke to said his actions went against their beliefs, but that they still perceived the west as hostile to Islam. Statements like Trump’s latest only reinforce that perception and potentially influences people who are susceptible to ISIS propaganda.
“This matters…the world watches this. The world sees the leading political candidate from one party making these kind of statements and still doing well and having these rallies,” NBC’s Richard Engel told Rachel Maddow on Monday. “Those are going around the world right now, and people realize this person is leading in the polls. That must be what Americans think. I was today with an Ambassador from the Middle East.”
“And he said, well, people in our country watch what is going on, and it makes us very concerned,” Engel said. “So from the world perspective, it is absolutely an image, an impression, a black spot on our collective foreign policy and our conscience. And it also just feeds into the ISIS narrative.”