One Man's Extremist Is Another Man's Presidential Candidate

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (A
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Since 9/11, I've come to expect the dreaded 'SSSS' (Secondary Security Screening Selection) on my boarding passes. I've always assumed my name Ahmed has a lot to do with being selected -- in addition to a habit of buying last-minute, one-way tickets. But this week, as I prepared to fly to the nation's capital, when I saw the quadruple SSSS, I thought to myself - it could be so much worse:

I wondered if Donald Trump, America's most popular Republican presidential candidate -- who plans to ban all Muslims from entering America -- gets what he wants, how would we even screen who is a Muslim? Would being named Ahmed be enough to prevent entry? Would it even matter what your religious or personal beliefs are? What does "being Muslim" even mean to Americans?
Trump's proposal highlights the ignorance and absurdity fueling a frightening reality: just how little understanding and willingness there is to view Islam as anything other than a unique threat in America.

Trump's racist commentary about Muslims is dangerous, divisive and disgusting -- but what is worse is that he doesn't need to win to do irreparable damage to America. And sadly none of this should come as a surprise. Hate speech against Muslims is nothing new.

Posted by Ahmed Shihab-Eldin on Friday, December 11, 2015

Trump may be a buffoon, but he is merely channeling a pervasive and widely-held Islamophobia that is growing in America. Trump is simply more blunt and belligerent in his delivery, which allows him to capitalize on the growing perception amongst Americans that Muslim means murder, that Islam poses a unique threat to America because it is inherently incompatible with American values.

Extremists like ISIS rely on other extremists like Trump to advance the false notion of a clash of civilizations -- a war between the West and Islam -- by floating the idea of banning Muslims altogether as a viable policy, which like all manifestations of Islamophobia, is driven by a combination of collective ignorance and fear.

Just as we can't deny that ISIS exists and associates itself with Islam to preach violence, we also can't pretend they succeed at advancing this purported clash of civilizations on their own. Trump is aiding and abetting terrorists. This misunderstanding is essential for the extremists of the U.S. to gain public support for their wars in the Middle East, and for their anti-immigrant policies.
Since 9/11, America has spent almost 15 years waging wars against predominantly Muslim-majority countries. We have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims and yet we are still failing to win the "war on terror."

Last month, just days before the attacks in Paris, Secretary of State, John Kerry said we neutralized Al Qaeda and Obama said we contained ISIS. But in 2001, Al Qaeda consisted of several hundred members, now they are much stronger.

At a time when right wing populism and xenophobic parties are sprouting up across Europe, we should be having serious conversations about how to combat extremism of all kinds, and how to promote tolerance, both at home and abroad. But instead we are constantly giving extremists like Trump a platform to spout their rhetoric.

ISIS is now clearly sending a message that the more you fight ISIS with bombs, the more of a target you become. When Russia started bombing ISIS more heavily, ISIS downed a Russian airplane over Sinai. When France expanded its airstrikes on ISIS in September, ISIS responded with an attack in the country's capital.

When it comes to terrorism and the weapon of fear that fuels it, feelings matter more than facts, and perceptions matter more than realities.

ISIS knows this, and exploits it. As do all extremists, including many American politicians.