Raqqa-Mosul-Paris-San Bernardino and now the USS Yorktown in South Carolina. These are the venues of ISIS’ greatest hits. First they conquered large swaths of territory with zealot soldiers, then they spread their tentacles of terror to the West with jihadist volunteers and now they are laying waste to Western-Muslim cohabitation with the help of useful idiots such as Marine Le Pen, whose rabid right wing party won a stunning victory in French elections, and the Republican Donald Trump.
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It’s a symbiotic relationship. Terrorists spark fear and loathing among their enemies, which is then converted by race-baiting firebrands into xenophobic hysteria against the terrorists and anyone who resembles them. This inevitably casts the terrorists as last guardians of their people’s honor, which in turn enhances the point made by the inciters that it’s "us-against-them" in a fight to the finish in which the weak will perish and only the strong will survive. The terrorists are heroes, the politicians get sworn into office, and so it goes.
For some Jews, the sight of thousands of supporters waving their fists in anger as Trump incited against Muslims and urged a blanket ban on their entry to the United States could have evoked associations with beer halls in Munich a century ago. Closer to home and with no similarity implied, some Israelis could be forgiven for comparing Trump’s outrageous move to Netanyahu’s election-day cry against “Arabs who are coming in droves to the ballot box”, another cruel and cynical move that yielded electoral dividends. But Netanyahu ultimately stops at red lights and pulls back from the brink while Trump, for all we know, may have no brakes at all.
But most of all, Trump must have delighted the Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He wants Americans to fear and loath Islam and the Muslims, friend or foe. He prays that his three million co-religionists in the U.S., most of whom probably detest him and his monstrosities, will be denigrated and isolated and even physically attacked, if possible. He would like nothing better than to turn all Americans into the kind of chauvinistic mob that whooped and cheered on Monday night as Trump gave voice to their darkest inner urges.
It is the not-so-secret blueprint that could turn Muslims against the West, cast Baghdadi as a latter-day Salah a-Din and create the fertile grounds in which more and more Shahids like Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik of San Bernardino can be cultivated, recruited and sent on their way. It is the evil specter that President Obama warned against in his speech on Sunday night, as George W. Bush did after September 11. But while Bush was praised and respected by his political adversaries, at least for this one wise move, Obama was tarred, feathered and ridiculed by all the Trump wannabes who aspire to be the Republican presidential candidate. Don’t lecture us, they said, hours before Trump proved just how much more discipline their disciples really need.
For most Americans, one assumes, Trump’s statement was truly shocking, beyond the pale, across the red line, an affront to the U.S. constitution, to its creed and to its values. Many might long for a successor to army counsel Joseph N. Welch who would shout out to Trump, as Welch did seven decades ago to Joseph McCarthy: “Until this moment I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
But it is a sign of the disturbing times in America and Europe that experts and pundits were careful not to declare Trump’s newest outrage a game-changer that would signal his early demise. None of them had adequately gauged the vile undercurrents of American society upon which Trump had risen to the top and dominated the field until now. It was just as likely that instead of precipitating his downfall, this would be the masterstroke that would knock his rivals flat out.
Some of the GOP candidates may have been genuinely appalled by Trump’s outrage, but none of them can truly wash their hands of its bitter fruit. For candidates such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and even Jeb Bush, who have been dog-whistling the same kind of anti-Muslim messages that Trump has been saying out in the open, his call to ban all Muslims from coming to America was an embarrassment more than anything else. By taking their own rhetoric to its logical extreme, Trump had exposed them for what some of them were: small-time copycats of his big-time exploitation of the dread and horror dispatched by ISIS from their headquarters thousands of miles away.
Now the whole world is watching. In the next few days, in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, people will gauge how America reacts, whether it spews out Trump’s hateful message or simply makes do with feeble condemnations as he goes from strength to strength. No will be following as closely as al-Baghdadi and his cohorts, who are probably just as surprised as America’s supporters and well wishers how quickly and thoroughly the land of the free and the home of the brave seemed to succumb to its prejudices and fear.