How Trump and ISIS help each other

Dominic Tierney writes: At first glance, Donald Trump looks like Islamic extremism’s worst nightmare. Trump said he would ban the billion-plus Muslims around the world from visiting the U.S. He would send the medieval ISIS back to the proverbial Stone Age: “Bomb the shit outta them.” In Tuesday’s Republican debate, Trump underscored his previously stated desire to deliberately kill the families of ISIS members. “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

From another angle, however, Trump and ISIS are effectively, if not intentionally, helping each other. They don’t communicate. There’s no moral equivalence between them. Nevertheless, Trump and ISIS aid each other’s agendas in a strange combination of the coiffured and the caliphate. Even in a Republican Party that has drifted closer to Islamophobia in recent years, Trump stands out for his polarizing rhetoric, which poses a threat to openness and tolerance in the United States. “Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background,” as President Obama warned recently. “Prejudice and discrimination helps ISIL and it undermines our national security.”

The Trump-ISIS symbiosis reveals a bigger story. International politics often looks like a contest between opposing countries, terrorist groups, and insurgencies. But the hardliners on all sides may be working together—deliberately or inadvertently. In other words, there’s a global confederation of extremists.

“Hardliner” refers to an uncompromising mentality, which lumps enemies together; sees the world in black-and-white, “good-versus-evil” terms; and backs extreme responses to perceived threats. Today, hardliners are often found on the populist right, preying on economic insecurity and fears of terrorism: Trump in the United States, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, or Viktor Orban’s “illiberal state” in Hungary. But there are also plenty of hardliners in communist countries as well as in the Islamic world. The ultras — whether they’re in Raqqa, Tehran, Washington, or Tel Aviv — can form a symbiotic relationship. Like tango dancers, the hardliners move in a close embrace, taking steps that facilitate the actions of the other. [Continue reading…]

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