Trump and Cruz Don't Understand ISIS

SRINAGAR, INDIA - JUNE 27: Kashmiri protesters displaying the flags of ISIS during a protest against alleged desecration of J
SRINAGAR, INDIA - JUNE 27: Kashmiri protesters displaying the flags of ISIS during a protest against alleged desecration of Jamia Masjid by police personnel yesterday after Friday prayers, on June 27, 2015 in Srinagar, India. Clashes broke out in several parts of downtown Srinagar on Saturday against the alleged desecration of Jamia Masjid by government forces yesterday. Reacting very sharply against police action, Auqaf Jamia Masjid, which functions under Mirwaiz, called for a shutdown in Srinagar followed by Geelani, Malik and Shah. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz demonstrate an incredible level of ignorance when it comes to terrorism and foreign policy. Their incessant complaints about political correctness and "Islamic terrorism" come off as whiny and oblivious when, in the same breath, they are unable to differentiate between Muslims and Muslim extremists.

Responding to the Brussels attack, Ted Cruz suggested that police needed to "patrol Muslim neighborhoods" to prevent attacks on U.S. soil. He earlier recommended "carpet bombing" ISIS as a viable counterterrorism measure. Trump agreed with the need to "secure Muslim neighborhoods," went further in recommending a temporary halt on any Muslims entering the country, and doubled down on "going farther than waterboarding" to extract information.

These policies should sound absurd to anyone serious about dealing with a group like ISIS. They also disregard all facts related to the Paris and Brussels attacks, to which they are allegedly responding. The most cursory understanding of the problem in Europe suggests that these are precisely the types of policies that increase recruitment and resistance to cooperation with authorities. Salah Abdelsalam -- the 10th Paris attacker that Belgian police recently captured -- apparently continued living in Brussels for four months without detection. Sure, members and sympathizers of ISIS helped him hide from authorities. This is not surprising. What is alarming is the lack of leads from within the Muslim communities in which he resided.

How could Abdelsalam, and others, operate openly in these neighborhoods even as one of the world's most wanted terrorists? The answer is no secret. Both France and Belgium (along with other European states) have severely isolated Muslim communities who deeply distrust authorities. They mostly live in isolated enclaves and their European hosts do little to promote national integration. And right-wing European parties, such as the National Front in France, have only intensified the divide by using harsh language that disparages Muslim (and other) immigrant communities. Both Cruz and Trump are actively using language and promoting policies that will push the U.S. in this direction. In fact, there is little difference between Cruz/Trump rhetoric and Marine Le Pen's invectives (She even comes off as more reasonable at times).

For instance, Cruz's idea of "patrolling Muslim neighborhoods" is tantamount to presuming guilt until innocence can be proven. Preemptively targeting Muslim communities prevents authorities from building healthy relationships that would increase the likelihood for cooperation. The proposal is meant to patrol Muslim neighborhoods simply because they are Muslim, not because of the presence of actionable intelligence.

Should authorities patrol conservative neighborhoods in case they are inspired by the likes of Eric Rudolph or other violent anti-abortion extremists? Of course not. Meanwhile carpet-bombing, aside from being tactically ineffective against a group like ISIS, would surely lead to large numbers of civilian casualties... the precise reason that it is regarded as a war crime and is no longer considered by any reasonable statesmen. The mere suggestion that the U.S. should pursue a carpet-bombing strategy illuminates a blatant disregard for Muslim lives.

As you might expect, Trump fares no better. The idea of banning Muslims from entering the United States is nothing short of discrimination. He certainly espouses draconian immigration policies in general; but an outright Muslim travel ban, though to be fair is still underspecified, would be unprecedented. It's not a matter of political correctness. It is true that radicalized Muslims have perpetrated horrific attacks. It is not true that all Muslims are suspect. In fact, Muslims have disproportionately suffered because of ISIS's brutality, facing the most direct effects of the group's cruelty.

While Western nations understandably mourn French and Belgian casualties, they overlook the hundreds of attacks that take place with increasing regularity in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Libya, Lebanon and Turkey. In fact, ISIS has brutally killed thousands of Muslims, not to mention the injured and displaced. According to the Global Terrorism Index, in 2014, nearly 10,000 Iraqis died in terrorist attacks. 10,000! In one year. In one country. Trump's proposed ban on Muslim travel would target ISIS's biggest victims and would again sow distrust and lessen Muslim willingness to share valuable information with authorities.

Finally, torture is, of course, unconstitutional. But that's not the point. Trump's argument rests on the premise that national security concerns must sometimes supersede civil liberties (not unlike the Bush administration Justice Department's rationale). Fair enough. The argument can be reasonably applied to policies such as warrantless wiretapping. But when it comes to torture, it's hard to find a better way to feed into the ISIS narrative of Western hypocrisy. Would Trump publicly advocate torturing a white supremacist conspiring a massacre? Unlikely. In fact, ISIS has been known to provoke Western countries into reacting in ways that specifically disenfranchise Muslim communities as a means of facilitating recruitment. If the U.S. is going to use "enhanced interrogation" methods, it should at least be kept under wraps. Propagating torture as a matter of policy is, frankly, stupid.

Heightened vigilance is certainly warranted and necessary at this time. There is no question that Europe is under assault, with an uncertain future. The U.S. should learn from Europe's mistakes vis-à-vis its Muslim communities, rather make the same ones. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump's proposals are counterproductive and meant to feed into instinctive fears that translate to bigotry. Rejecting policies that single out the Muslim community for patrolling, carpet-bombing, banning, and torturing is not a matter of political correctness. It's just foolish.