Among other unprecedented steps, President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration includes a temporarily ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia — with the ostensible goal of preventing terrorism. For a variety of reasons, however, close observers of Islamist extremism say that Trump’s plan will only make things worse.
In an article published Monday, Charlie Winter,
Unwittingly, the new administration is building the world that salafi-jihadists so dearly want to inhabit, one where “crusader governments and citizens” are seen to be persecuting Sunni Muslims en masse and in which the conspiracy about there being a U.S.-orchestrated “war on Islam” actually rings true.
As one of the Islamic State’s fans recently wrote on Telegram, when it comes to cleaving the world in two and undermining the prospects of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims, the self-proclaimed caliphate has a friend in Trump, a man that is “just stupid enough to do it for us.”
There’s no question that Trump’s latest policy blunder will be spun as hard evidence for the Islamist extremist reading of global politics, impacting the ability of groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to influence and recruit. After all, a sense of grievance, when agitated correctly, can be a powerful thing. It can even serve as a way to galvanize support and justify the most extreme violence.
Former extremists have also given support to this view of the executive order in statements to CNN.
“It can play into their propaganda, to make it clear for anyone who could be in doubt, that it’s a war on Islam and all Muslims,”a “former jihadi” pseudonymously identified as “Abu Abdullah” told the news channel.
“Abu Obaida,” meanwhile, “a British former Jabhat al-Nusra fighter in Syria” said that Trump has “helped ISIS a lot, he’s basically being a tool for them in a way.” He added that “On social media right now there’s a lot of people quoting Anwar al-Awlaki (the late spokesperson for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and his last speech when he said that America will turn on the Muslims.”
Winter and others including Stuart Shapiro, director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School at Rutgers University, have also criticized the ban on immigration from the seven designated countries on the basis that it would not have stopped past attacks. All major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 have been carried out by American citizens or legal residents.
Trump’s immigration ban is “the perfect ISIS recruiting tool,” Shapiro writes in an article for The Hill.
“This recruiting tool is likely to be effective in messages consumed by individuals like those who perpetrated the awful attacks in Fort Hood, Orlando and San Bernardino. So while we will be keeping out individuals who mean the United States no harm and indeed are in many cases the victims of those who do, we will have handed our enemies an important weapon.”
Many have assessed the situation similarly. “As long as the U.S. has a one-size-fits-all policy that only applies to Muslim countries, this policy will be used as a recruitment tool,” Michelle Benson, an associate professor of political science at State University of New York at Buffalo, told USA Today.
Sen John McCain, (R-Arizona) has said Trump’s immigration move will likely “give ISIS some more propaganda.”
But beyond the damage done by the immigration order in helping ISIS with recruiting, experts are also saying it will also directly hurt the U.S. in its own efforts to recruit and retain counter-terrorism and intelligence assets.
“These individuals often put themselves at the risk of death for working with the U.S. and without the ability to offer them safety, we will be reducing the likelihood that those in countries targeted by the ban will work with us in the future,” Phillip Lohaus, decorated veteran of U.S. Special Operations Command and CIA, told Newsweek.
“We relied heavily on local translators, many of whom have gone on to forge productive lives for themselves here in the States,” he added. “Why would they take such a risk if they knew that they would face retribution or death by staying in their home countries?”
Robert McFadden, a former deputy assistant director of national security operations with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, offered the magazine a similar prediction of the order’s looming impact.
“From an intelligence, operations, and foreign liaison perspective, there will most certainly be a profound chilling effect, with respect to developing contacts, recruiting sources, and working with foreign counterparts” McFadden said.
Facing a public backlash, the Trump administration has already reversed part of the immigration order that would have blocked entry to the U.S. to green card holders from the seven countries in question. Trump would probably be wise to do more backpedaling regarding his overall approach to counter-terrorism policy, though, based as it appears to be on a dangerously oversimplified understanding of Islamist extremism and the depths of U.S. entanglement in, and responsibility for, ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East.
“If Trump continues on this trajectory, it will help the Islamic State idea to live on, even if Mosul falls tomorrow and Raqqa the day after,” writes Winter. “In any case, the reverberations from his first 10 days in office will be sure to far outlive his time as president.”
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