According to early reports from Reuters, President Trump plans to refocus a US program called Countering Violent Extremism. The CVE, which combats dangerous ideologies of all stripes, will be repurposed to solely target Islamic fascism and jihad. But as anyone who’s looked at crime data knows, the risk of Islamic terror in the US is infrequent. Trump’s decision to focus on it is not about protecting Americans, it’s about demonizing human beings based on religion and ethnicity.
For years, Republicans have argued that President Obama was ineffective in the fight against Islamic terror because he refused to label it as such. It was always a shallow argument, meant to be played in soundbite form on FOX News. Now, with a childish president who actually gets his worldview from FOX, that silly argument is shaping policy.
This is how societies embark on the path of committing large-scale domestic atrocities. At least as many Americans, if not more, are killed by right-wing terrorists as by radicalized Muslims. Trump is signaling that white killers can’t be targeted on the basis of their ideology, but Muslim killers can. It’s a shift that will surely please the neo-Nazi base Trump claims to know nothing about.
Already the new administration’s dramatic shift has inspired violence against Muslims. Last week in Quebec, a white nationalist murdered six innocent human beings at a mosque. Not only did the Trump Administration not refer to it as an act of terror, they used it to justify the anti-Muslim travel ban.
If calling something by a particular name is as crucial to fighting it as Trump and the Republicans claim, then they are clearly not at all serious about saving lives from white terrorists. In fact, they don’t seem to be serious about saving lives at all.
Just about any law enforcement or national security expert will say that a Muslim witch hunt is counterproductive to any serious counterterrorism efforts. Former CIA directors General David Petraeus and Michael Hayden recently made exactly that argument. It will weaken ties between law enforcement and skeptical Muslim communities. It will provide a valuable talking point for extremist clerics seeking to radicalize marginalized Muslims.
Calling terrorism committed by radicalized Muslims “radical Islamic terror” makes sense. So does calling terror committed by skinheads and militiamen “radical white terror” or, perhaps, “alt-right terror.” But white people aren’t in much danger of being unfairly profiled. A guilty skinhead can walk down most Main Street without anyone noticing. The most peaceful and law-abiding Muslim cannot enjoy that luxury, and less so when they are made targets by the US government.
Much of this is still in its infancy, but the Trump Administration is moving fast. Fascists use a shock-and-awe approach to destabilize society, declare an enemy, and force people to choose sides. No one truly knows what it’s all leading to, but nothing can be put past the Trump White House. We are led by a racist, pathological narcissist in Trump and a genuinely evil nihilist in Steve Bannon.
Soon Trump may call for greater citizen action and monitoring of Muslims. Propaganda may be distributed advising Americans what to watch out for – suspicious things like two guys with beards speaking an unknown language or a flurry of activity at a local mosque. Anti-Muslim attacks like the one in Quebec will increase, but their motivations will be downplayed. But if a single Muslim commits a violent act, it could thrust America into full-blown fascism. At that point, Trump’s supporters will become accomplices.
Muslims make up around 1 percent of the US population. According to a new study by sociologists at the University of North Carolina, out of 3.3 million Muslim-Americans, 46 were involved in extremist acts in 2016. Only nine of those had family backgrounds in the countries on Trump’s travel ban. It can’t be repeated enough: The point of all this is not to protect Americans, but to declare an enemy. Watching Americans play along is horrific.
Islamic terrorism is a serious threat. As an ideology, it should be fought with science and enlightenment philosophy. Those suffering under the brutal conditions in which groups like ISIS thrive – conditions which the US bears a strong responsibility for creating – need humanitarian aid. Law enforcement should – and does – fight it domestically. But pretending it’s our greatest threat actually undermines national security. Right now, the most dangerous and extreme ideology in America, which we must all resist, is the one coming from the White House.