There were quite a few three-word-catchphrases we heard repeatedly from Candidate Trump, phrases such as “drain the swamp,” “repeal and replace,” “build the wall,” “fake news media,” and the crowd pleasing “lock her up.” Another linguistic triumvirate that was and still is used by Trump is “radical Islamic terrorism” (or “radical Islamic extremism”).
Whilst this is something I have commented on previously, I feel it is something that requires further commentary. Only recently did we see President Trump say the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” whilst standing next to the rather confused looking German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House (the Mar-A-Lago of the north). Then, right on cue and as if by magic, one of these aforementioned radicalised Muslims was shot dead at a French airport the very next day. Fast forward a few days later and we have yet another radicalised Muslim shot dead in London before he killed several people, including a police officer.
The weirdly ironic thing is the night before this horrid attack took place in London, I was watching the following 7 minute video from Vox called This Is Your Brain On Terrorism, a video that was certainly applicable at the time I watched it, but is somehow even more essential for viewing by all now:
I have no doubt that over the coming days I will do a separate blog on this horrible incident, which has generated the usual media cycle of attack by Muslim, followed by protests by Muslims on how peaceful Islam is, followed by media analysis of how this person was radicalised. Rinse and repeat. For the moment, however, I would instead like to focus on Trump and his obsession with his mantra of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Here are a few points to note…
Trump thinks these words might actually be magic…
Let’s begin with the journalist Mark NC who in November 2015 made the following cutting remark:
The warped philosophy of conservatives in America has long held that the primary reason for the persistence of terrorism is that President Obama and other Democrats are reluctant to utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” They somehow have concluded that those magical words are key to defeating groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. And they wonder why we think they’re stupid. – Mark NC, Nov 2015
He followed this up seven months later with the idea of these words somehow being a kind of reverse Beetlejuice doctrine:
Radical Islamic Terrorism. Radical Islamic Terrorism. Radical Islamic Terrorism. There, I said it three times. Is it gone yet? In the childish imagination of American conservatives the only reason that terrorism still exists is that President Obama and other Democrats have failed to utter the magical incantation “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” The Wingnut Republican Tabernacle and the Pharisees of Fox News have devoutly concluded that this mantra is the key to defeating groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. They believe that it is rhetorical kryptonite to terrorists. And then they wonder why we think they’re stupid. What we have here is the widespread adoption of the fabled “Reverse Beetlejuice Doctrine” wherein you shout “Radical Islamic Terrorism” three times and ISIS disappears. It’s clearly an obsession with these strategery geniuses. – Mark NC, Jun 2016
Just in case you’re wondering where the word ‘strategery’ originates from…
The previous President chose to phrase things differently…
Former president Barack Obama used the phrase “violent extremism,” which severed the violence carried out by terrorists from any immediate association with theology. Trump and many of his associates, meanwhile, have been explicit about their belief that Western democracy is at war with Islam. – Peter Holley
Trump’s own national security adviser says we should not use these words…
Trump at first hired Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, a man who had previously called Islam a “cancer.” Flynn, very shortly into his tenure, had to resign due to close (very close) ties with Russia. The new NSA appointed by Trump is one General H R McMaster, a man who says we should drop the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” as it has nothing to do with Islam, rather the terrorists have twisted Islam to fit their own motives. This to me is another example of Allah being the best of planners.
H.R. McMaster urged the president in a closed-door meeting to refrain from using the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” according to Politico. McMaster’s reasoning, according to CNN, is that terrorists who profess to act in accordance with Islam aren’t true adherents of the religion but anomalies who pervert its teachings. McMaster argued that using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” damages the country’s ability to partner with key allies, many of whom are Muslim. – Peter Holley
Even Trump’s man-crush Putin says we should not use this phrase…
The New York Times reported that Putin has a long history of trying not to link terrorists to Islam and goes so far as referring to the Islamic State as “the so-called Islamic State.” “I would prefer Islam not be mentioned in vain alongside terrorism,” Putin said at a news conference in December, according to the Times. – Peter Holley
A brilliant article about the word ‘inshallah’ and how it could counter the Islamophobic threat…
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian has written a must-read article called ‘Inshallah’ In The Age Of Trump which asks the question “Can the hipster invocation of God’s will survive the coming wave of American Islamophobia?”
The article makes several interesting points about language, culture, and history, including the following:
There’s now a good chance inshallah may find a permanent home in English. But those afraid of creeping inshallah should take heart. This wouldn’t be the first time that the word has imbedded itself in a Western language. Ojalá is a common Spanish word often translated as “hopefully.” In fact, ojalá is merely the Hispanicized pronunciation of inshallah, which made its way into the language during the centuries of Muslim rule in Spain that ended in 1492. Yet as far as I can tell, despite this obvious case of linguistic jihad, neither Spain nor the 20 other countries where Spanish is the official national language has yet fallen to the Muslim Brotherhood. – Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
Finally, an article I would kindly urge everyone to read in full…
I came across the following article from Tom Rogan, writing for the Daily Beast, that is well worth reading in its entirety, which is why I have presented it below in full. It delves into Islamic theology and history to explain why “Trump’s phrase is idiotic.”
The president thinks he has a winning phrase here, and maybe it is in the heartland. But in the Muslim heartland, it’s heard even by reasonable people as ‘America hates you.’
Tom Rogan, 16 Mar 2017
President Trump is in love with the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”
When he’s talking foreign policy you can bet he’ll pull it out the bag. And you can bet he’ll repeat it. His body language tells the tale. Every time the president utters “radical Islamic terrorism,” his eyes glint and he nods in self-regard. He knows he’s found something simple, punchy, and popular with the vast majority of conservatives. In three words, he identifies a threat and hints at easy solutions.
Unfortunately Trump’s phrase is idiotic.
For a start, it assumes all Islamic terrorists source their ideology from a sustaining set of beliefs. They most certainly do not. Aside from their appreciation for the Koran, the five pillars of Islam, and Muhammad, Islamists vary in their theological interpretations, political structures, and strategic intentions. At a very basic level are the distinctions between Sunni and Shia Islam. While Sunni vs. Shia characterizations are often used in overly simplistic ways to assess particular circumstances (Maliki hates Sunnis, etc.), they help inform distinctions between modern Islamic terrorist groups. And identifying just a few of these distinctions helps explain why “radical Islamic terrorism” is as useful a strategic catch-all phrase for counterterrorism as “use varied foods” is to our ability to make a good consommé.
Take the legacy of history and modern Islamic political identity. As it pertains to terrorism, the martyrdom of Shia leader Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE is especially noteworthy here. Regarded by Shia Muslims as dishonorably murdered at the battle’s climax, Husayn is also revered for refusing to submit to Sunni tyranny.
In a useful example of modern relevance, consider Shia interpretations of Husayn’s death and the strategic identity of the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group. Seeing themselves as heirs to Husayn’s piety and intransigence against powerful tyrants, Hezbollah places special emphasis on the celebration of patient sacrifice and martyrdom. Unlike Daesh (or ISIS), for example, iconic symbolism plays a heavy role in Hezbollah’s identity. So does appreciation for time. Seeing themselves as the long-oppressed underdogs of Islamic history, Shia terrorist groups tend to be more patient in strategy than Sunni terrorist groups.
On the flip side, contemporary Sunni terrorist groups tend to take banner under Salafi-Jihadist ideology. Salafism presumes a natural supremacy of Sunni Islam over all ideologies and a more urgent desire for global conquest. Relevant here are a multitude of Sunni scholars from the 13th century Ibn Taymiyyah, to the more recent Sayyid Qutb, in influencing al Qaeda and Daesh toward ideological intransigence. It’s a major reason why these groups regard Shia Islam as a mystic sect that stands as an affront to God.
Deep and overt hatred for Shia Muslims is imbued in most Daesh commentaries. But in another distinction, Shia sectarianism against Sunnis tends to flow less from aged theology and much more from Iran’s Khomeini-sectarian ideology. Iran’s, after all, is an ideology with political imperialism at its core. And Iran skillfully veils its imperialism under its appropriation of Shia ideology. It is notable that Iranian-led Shia groups tend to be most responsible for atrocities against Sunni Muslims.
Regardless, these distinctions matter deeply to the United States in that we need different strategies to deal with different terrorist groups. With the Lebanese Hezbollah for example, we need to be able to have tea (of the non-polonium kind) one moment and employ less pleasant options at the next. With Daesh we need to apply attritional warfare against its senior and mid-ranks. With Iran and Saudi Arabia we need to empower political moderates and restrain revolutionary extremists. Most of all we need an open mind. Yet, every time Trump uses his catch phrase, he closes Muslim minds. Even if he doesn’t intend this, it is his effect.
Anti-Americanism is a casual impulse of many populist opinion makers (whether imams or editors or TV hosts) in most Muslim-majority nations. Correspondingly, while Trump might believe he is segregating (radical) terrorists from other Muslims, his three-word rallying call is easily translated into anti-American effect. It lets those who already don’t like us tell others who might like us that we hold them only in disdain. Think “tear down this wall!” rendered “get lost losers!” It’s a great loss because American conservatives have much in common with Muslims.
Ultimately, my real gripe with Trump’s phrase is its substitution of a stump slogan for serious strategy. Just as President Obama wrongly neglected the varied Islamic roots of different Islamist terrorist organizations (and thus discounted the importance of Muslim reformation efforts), Trump assumes simplicity where none exists. In doing so, a president who prides himself on solutions is wandering in the wilderness of stupidity.