[…] Welcome back, approximately, to the world just after 9/11, when terror hung in the air, fear was raw and palpable and Islamophobia was so rampant that George W. Bush felt compelled to go to a Washington mosque six days after the attacks and declare: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Barack Obama, having inherited a much bigger global war from Bush after the invasion of Iraq, has avoided any talk of Islam at all and insisted on calling the enemy merely “violent extremism.” Obama repeatedly sought to remind Americans that it was precisely the idea of a “clash of civilizations” that Islamists embraced—because it frames the conflict as one against all of Islam and its culture, not just the jihadists.
But the incoming president, Trump, appears open to the clash-of-civilizations idea—one that fits neatly with his view of an America that rejects “globalism,” tightens up its borders against immigrants, and bans most new Muslims from coming in until they can be “vetted.” “I think Islam hates us,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last March. While he said he was speaking of radical Islam, he added: “It’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” For the Trump team, who did not respond to a request for comment, Muslims appear to be guilty of radical sympathies until proven innocent.
That approach, some scholars say, will be a terrible mistake, 15 years into what is already seen by some as a “Forever War.”
“Sadly, Trump traffics in a similar ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS,” says Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, author of the recently published book ISIS: A History. “They all view the world in binary terms. … What Trump and his followers do not get is that their inflammatory rhetoric plays into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda, who labor hard to convince skeptical Muslims that the West is waging a war against Islam.”