Donald Trump stopped being funny quite some time ago, but for a while, he was comical. Sure, his words have been obnoxious and derogatory from the very beginning, but his campaign seemed to be little more than an absurdity of our time: a buffoonish reality star making a go at the White House and saying whatever unfiltered nonsense came to his mind. He was the antithesis of the arid establishment politicians -- the Jeb Bushes and Marco Rubios of the world -- and he was so filthy rich that he didn’t have to worry about pleasing the donor class. For a brief period, he even promoted some policies, such as taxing the rich and defending Social Security and Medicare (while also condemning corporatist trade deals) that made him seem, in certain not-insubstantial regards, like the least terrifying GOP candidate, as I wrote back in early September.
But three months later, and less than two months away from the first primary votes in Iowa, Trump has gone from a kind of joke who seemed ready to collapse at any moment, to a legitimate contender for the GOP nomination. Not only that, but his rhetoric has grown increasingly toxic (which is saying something, considering he started out his campaign by calling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists”), and he has earned the label "fascist" from many commentators on both sides of the political spectrum.
Trump has moved on from attacking an entire nationality to an entire religion, but one thing has remained constant: The enemy is foreign and non-white. (Yes, there are white Muslims and Mexicans, but they are of a minority, and Trump and his followers are all about generalizations.) Now Trump has come up with his most absurd plan yet, to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. And this wasn’t just an off the cuff remark, as were his comments about making Muslims register in a national database. This time, he read from a prepared press release.
This disturbing plan has received almost universal condemnation. (Although some of his Republican competitors haven’t quite denounced him, as they are all competing for the same share of bigots and crazies.) The billionaire has quoted a highly suspect online poll done by a hawkish think tank to back up his claim that “there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population,” and he has provided no detail of how such a plan would be enforced. Would he single out nations with large Muslim populations, for example, or question travelers about their religion?
It is yet another one of Trump's ridiculous and unrealistic plans (like deporting 11 million people), which he and his yes-men advisors probably came up with while thinking of new ways to rile up his paranoid base. But his plans are beside the point; they are absurd and would have little chance of becoming a reality, even if Trump miraculously became president. The real danger is Trump’s divisive rhetoric. As many, including President Obama, have pointed out, the Islamophobia that we have seen from Trump and other GOP candidates over the past month is one of the best recruiting tools for the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
In a recent column at the Washington Post, “Donald Trump: The Islamic State’s secret weapon?” Kathleen Parker explains how dangerous Trump can be when it comes to fighting Islamic extremism, for one main reason: We need to support, not alienate, the vast majority of Muslims who are fighting violent extremism and Islamist ideology.
“Two facts to consider,” writes Parker. “First, we need the help of the world’s 1.6 billion — and this nation’s 3 million — Muslims if we hope to defeat terrorists who justify their barbarism with their interpretation of Islam. Second, our best defense against radicalization of Muslim Americans is inclusiveness. By marginalizing our own Muslim community through rhetoric, we vastly increase the risk of radicalization and recruitment.”
Indeed, Trump and other Republicans are -- unwittingly, perhaps -- doing the work of ISIS. For example, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre back in February, the Islamic State released an article in its propaganda magazine, Dabiq (starting on page 54), titled “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” It opens with the following paragraph:
“The grayzone is critically endangered, rather on the brink of extinction. Its endangerment began with the blessed operations ofSeptember 11th, as these operations manifested two camps before the world for mankind to choose between, a camp of Islam – without the body of Khilāfah to represent it at the time – and a camp of kufr [non-believers] – the crusader coalition. Or as [Osama Bin Laden] said, “The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam”
Both Donald Trump and the Islamic State seek a clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic world -- a 21st century crusade. The Islamic State’s goal, with each of its terrorist attacks (which are mostly on other Muslims), is “to further bring division to the world and destroy the grayzone everywhere.” And Trump is playing right into their hands. His rhetoric is saying to each and every Muslim around the world that America and the West are indeed anti-Muslim, and that there is no gray zone. It is us or them, the crusaders or the Islamists.
And so Trump has rapidly gone from being a fatuous sideshow to a dangerous threat to peace and global stability. The Donald is no longer a laughing matter.