Trump’s Response to Orlando Is Exactly What ISIS Wants

Polarization, immoderation, attacks on civilians and Islam: ISIS’s wish list is Trump’s platform.

Donald Trump arrives in his plane to speak to supporters at a rally on Saturday at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. 

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Donald Trump says the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida—perpetrated early Sunday morning by an Afghan American who’d pledged allegiance to ISIS—vindicates Trump’s hard line against ISIS and terrorism. In a tweet posted Sunday afternoon, Trump gloated that he had been proved “right on radical Islamic terrorism.” A few hours later, he repeated his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. In a statement Sunday evening, Trump argued that 99 percent of Afghans were radical Islamists, that Middle Eastern migrants should be kept out of the United States, and that anyone who refused to “say the words ‘Radical Islam’ ” in the hours after the Orlando massacre should be disqualified from the presidency.

Trump is a fool. Analysts who see this atrocity as an act of radical Islamic terrorism—and who understand radicalism, Islam, and terrorism far better than Trump does—suspect it was inspired by a message from ISIS, issued three weeks ago. This elaborate statement, delivered by ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, urged ISIS sympathizers to attack civilians in Europe and the United States during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It also clarified the group’s propaganda and recruitment strategy. Trump’s platform of banning Muslims, blocking migrants, and ruthlessly bombing ISIS-held territory fits this strategy perfectly. He’s an ISIS stooge.

The statement from ISIS, released on May 21, exhorts Muslims to “terrorize” non-Muslims everywhere and to make Ramadan “a month of suffering.” But this plea comes from a position of weakness. The statement says “the whole world has allied and rushed against us,” launching “20,000 airstrikes” and killing several top ISIS leaders. It pledges, defiantly and expectantly, that ISIS won’t quit no matter how much territory it loses.

The worst peril, according to the statement, is emerging from within Islam: “Evil scholars” are using “every form of media” to issue “fatwas against the mujahidin.” These scholars, the statement explains, are promoting moderate interpretations of Islamic mercy. They’re denouncing terrorism and condemning ISIS fighters as pseudo-Islamic “renegades.” They’re instructing Muslims to renounce jihad and expel ISIS from their lands. For pages and pages, the statement goes on, lambasting these scholars and the damage they’re doing to public opinion. Clearly, ISIS sees this as a central threat.

To quash the threat, ISIS reasserts that “there are only two armies, two camps, two trenches”: Muslims and infidels. There can be no integration, the statement argues—no attempt to “ ‘make peace and mix’ with those who hate the faith.” Muslims must follow ISIS: “We are the People of the Quran.” The statement claims that the armies arrayed against ISIS “wage war against us … because we command the worship of Allah. … This is our religion. For this alone, we fight the world and they fight us.”

To prove that the forces arrayed against ISIS are anti-Islamic, and to justify terrorism in Europe and the United States, the statement presents three arguments. First, it says the West doesn’t care about the thousands of Syrian Muslims slaughtered by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Contrary to our rhetoric about human rights, we’ve ignored Assad’s:

barrels of death, destruction, and gas. America and its allies do not ache and feel pain, except when [ISIS fighters] advance and gain victories. The world does not weep at the Russian and [Assad] massacres each day against the Muslims. … The people of Europe and other lands of [unbelievers] do not shudder at the Russian destruction of hospitals.

Second, the statement accuses us of indifference to Syrians who have fled their homes. “The sentiments in Europe, America, and other disbelieving nations are not moved nor shaken by the displacement of millions,” ISIS argues. “They are not disturbed by the hunger, disease, suffering, and death of thousands of helpless and besieged children, women, and elderly people.”

Third, ISIS says it’s OK to kill civilians in non-Muslim countries, because that’s what we do in Muslim countries. The statement instructs ISIS sympathizers abroad:

It has reached us that some of you do not act due to their incapacity to reach military targets, or their finding fault with targeting those who are called “civilians.” So they [avoid] harming them, doubting the permissibility thereof. Know that inside the lands of the belligerent crusaders, there is no sanctity of blood and no existence of those called “innocents.” … [T]heir warplanes do not distinguish between one who is armed and another who is unarmed, nor between a man and a woman.

On each of these three points, Trump’s rhetoric and agenda support ISIS. Trump backs Russia and Assad in their ruthless assaults on rebellious Syrian population centers. He calls for a “complete shutdown” of migration to the United States, specifically aimed at Muslims. He pledges to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS-held territory and loosen restraints on airstrikes that might kill civilians. He even advocates targeting the family members of terrorists, regardless of their innocence.

Trump also reinforces ISIS’s message that the campaign against it is a war against Islam. His ban on entry to the United States would apply to all Muslims, not just to radicals or supporters of terrorism. Three months ago, Trump declared that “Islam hates us” and refused to distinguish radical Muslims from Muslims in general, arguing that “it’s very hard to separate because you don’t know who is who.” On Friday, just before the Orlando attack, he told an audience of conservative Christians that he would “defend Christian Americans” and clamp down on the influx of “Syrian refugees.”

In short, Trump would undercut everything that’s working against ISIS: Muslim governments that have joined our military campaign, clerics who are articulating moderate Islam, ministries and activists who are working online to discredit jihadism. He would help ISIS obtain the weapons it needs most: overseas recruits who are willing to kill people in their own countries. He would make another Orlando more likely.

Trump thinks his policy of “vigilance” against domestic Muslims would protect us. But that, too, serves the enemy’s agenda. In its Ramadan message, ISIS urged its sympathizers in the West to wage jihad in their own countries, “to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.” That’s the purpose of the attacks in Fort Hood, Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando: to terrorize us, to polarize us, to make every neighbor fear his neighbor.

So far, the terrorists haven’t succeeded. But Trump might.

Read more from Slate on the Orlando nightclub shooting.