Prominent Trump advisor and white nationalist Steve Bannon has declared the media to be an “enemy” of and “opposition party” to the new administration. His assaults on the free press notwithstanding, Bannon recently made a cameo on an unlikely media source: al-Qaeda’s Al-Masra newspaper.
— Elisabeth Kendall (@Dr_E_Kendall) February 28, 2017
The front page of the February edition of Al-Masra, one of several jihadist publications affiliated with al-Qaeda, features a prominent photo of Bannon under one of his characteristically bigoted quotes: “The war is with Islam as a religion.” Bannon’s appearance in jihadist media reflects the tendency for nationalist and Islamophobic policies like those he has crafted to backfire in playing into the jihadist narrative of Islam vs. the West and thereby increasing recruitment to radical groups.
Indeed, with the rabidly Islamophobic Bannon calling many of the shots in the new administration, particularly on issues like the Muslim ban, the White House and its jihadist enemies are now both touting the same narrative of a civilizational clash between Islam and the West.
One would think that the correlation between exclusionary Islamophobic rhetoric and policies and increased radicalization in the Muslim world would be quite clear. Bannon and Trump, however, are clearly so blinded by their irrational hatred that these commonsense realization has eluded them.
As ever, the answer to jihadism is not to respond with reciprocal hatred but to take a positivist approach emphasizing development, education, and the plethora of moderate forces within Islam.
Jihadist groups like al-Qaeda are well known to keep a close watch on American politics, and have surely noted not only Trump’s unconstitutional and immoral Muslim ban but also the dangerously divisive rhetoric emanating from the White House and the string of Islamophobic attacks it has triggered. These groups, including both al-Qaeda and ISIS, are responding in kind with a greater emphasis on targeting the United States.
“American is clearly becoming a more prominent target,” Dr. Elisabeth Kendall, a Senior Research Fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Oxford University recently told ThinkProgress. “Trump has created an upsurge in militant jihadist attention on America. It was previously on America but also on other targets like Shiites in Yemen, Iraq, and even Syria, but this has really refocused attention on America itself.
Experts are of course united in their understanding that the Islamophobic rhetoric and policies that so animate white nationalists like Bannon only play into jihadists’ hands and further their cause. “The Muslim ban policy is far more potent than any video or other piece of propaganda” in recruiting converts to jihadism, Charlie Winter, a senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London, said in an interview with CNN.
“If you are serious about defeating ISIS, the last thing you want to do is portray the fight as Islam vs. the West,” Fawaz Gerges, chairman of contemporary Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and author of “ISIS: A History,” told CNN.
And yet that sort of manichean portrayal is exactly what we have been hearing from the White House, with the exclusionary policies to back it up. If we truly want to defeat the scourge of jihadist hatred, we must first confront the hatred within our own body politic, of which Trump and Bannon are prime examples.
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James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.