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Trumped Up: Does GOP candidate's rhetoric help ISIS?

Donald Trump

GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump. (Photo by: Michael Vadon - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

December 09, 2015

The world remains abuzz this morning about Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The current frontrunner for the GOP nomination has shocked the political establishment and received nearly universal criticism from leaders around the world — even many in his own party — who fear that Trump’s rhetoric plays into the hands of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

But his political base views the billionaire reality-show-star-turned-candidate as the only one speaking truth to power, no matter whether it fits a “politically correct” mold.

For insight and context, ASU Now turned to Professor Steven Corman, of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Strategic Communication and co-author of "Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism" as well as co-editor of "Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Strategic Communication to Combat Violent Extremism."

In 2005-06 Corman served on the Scientist Panel for the Strategic Operations Working Group at the U.S. Special Operations Command as an expert on terrorist networks and ideology.   

Question: Donald Trump is being accused of doing precisely what ISIS wants with proposals, such as mosque surveillance and a ban on Muslim visits to the U.S., that provoke internal conflict here and further ISIS’ message that the West is allied against Islam. Accurate?  

Answer: Yes. Daesh and other violent Islamist groups believe they will succeed by stoking conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. Mr. Trump’s proposal plays into this strategy.

Q: You said “Daesh” rather than “Islamic State.”  Why?

A: Because Daesh is neither Islamic, nor a state. Their communication strategy is to convince people they are both, and we shouldn’t help them.

Q: What is the effect on peaceful Muslims who otherwise might be helpful and help identify threats?

A: It sends a message that they are not considered trustworthy. Why would they cooperate with people who don’t trust them?

Q: Have policies designed to encourage the integration of Muslims into Western culture, such as France’s controversial headscarf ban or Canada’s ban of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, contributed to Muslims feeling ostracized?

A: In cases where Muslims are singled out for special treatment, yes. For example, some Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair, but as far as I know France does not ban this, or other religious sacraments such as wearing crucifixes.

Q: How can we frame today’s conversation about extremism so that it does not further the West vs. Islam narrative pushed by terrorists?

A: By discussing events in terms of violent extremism rather than Islam. Any religion can be misused to promote violence. 

Q: Conservatives criticize President Obama for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorist.” Why should he or shouldn’t he?

A: Where it is necessary to refer to violent extremists as a class, he should use Islamist terrorist or extremist because that refers to people with a political rather than a religious agenda. That said, it’s usually possible to just refer to a specific group like al Qaeda or Daesh, and that is preferable.

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