The man who perpetrated the horrific massacre in Las Vegas this week was converted to Islam before his name became known, and he continues to convert after his death as well. Numerous news and social media sites that cater to the right willingly succumbed to reports that 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada had turned into a devout Muslim without any of his relatives or acquaintances knowing about it. At first they relied on Israel’s Reshet Bet, which reported that Paddock was actually Samir al-Hajib, who converted at the age of 20. Then ISIS itself got into the act, anointing the killer as Abd al-Bar al-Ameriki, “a soldier in the service of Islam” who had answered the call to “harm the countries of the Crusader coalition.”
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The political motives of those who are desperately seeking a link between Paddock and Islam, from Donald Trump on down, are clear and obvious. A mass killing that has no connection to Islam gives American liberals a battering ram to assault right-wing support for free guns for all. Islamic terror, on the other hand, exempts the right from the need to provide excuses or explanations and gives it an instrument with which to whip up public rage, call for closing the ranks against a common enemy and condemn all those who don’t join the choir as collaborators who are stabbing America in the back.
Though the right hates to be reminded of it, radical Islam is often its best friend. America’s humiliation by Khomeini revolutionaries in Tehran helped Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980. The war against Al-Qaida after the 9/11 atrocities pushed George Bush to a second term in 2004. A comprehensive study carried out by the Rand Corporation almost a decade ago found that terror attacks that were carried out within three months of elections added an additional 1.35 percent of the vote to the Israeli right, a bonus big enough to give the Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir the edge in the 1988 elections and to make Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister by a razor-thin margin in 1996. Perhaps more than any other leader in the world, Netanyahu is a prime example of how a talented and eloquent right-wing leader can climb to the top on the back of Islamic terror, and then stay there for what is beginning to seem like eternity.
But the reliance of the right on Islamic terror isn’t simply tactical. It is essential to its core identity and addictive as a hard drug. The existence of an evil and dangerous enemy buttresses the simplistic right wing view of the world as a battle between black and white, good and evil, for us or against us, with no middle ground in between. The battle against Islamic terror allows the right to foster nationalism, chauvinism and hatred of foreigners, which are all part of its essence as well as tools that serve its purposes.
The more the right wing succeeds in inflating the undeniable threat posed by Islamic terrorism, the easier it gets to concoct a perpetual state of emergency that shunts aside controversies and crimes, enables the erosion of civil rights and the rule of law and exempts the public and its leaders from the need to account for their actions. The horrific suicide bombings of the second intifada more than a decade ago, for example, erased in Israeli minds any connection between the occupation and its consequences and paved the way for the unrestrained and guilt-free de facto occupation that is happening now.
By obsessively focusing on Islamic terror however, the right is sowing the seeds of its own decline as a part of democracy, in America and Israel both. There is a close correlation between the compulsive addiction of right wing parties to eternal war against Islam over the past two decades and their transformation to intolerant and anti-pluralistic groups that eject anyone who is suspected of moderation or complex thought. Even when it is being beaten on the battlefield, Islamic terror and its adherents could not dream of sweeter victory.