14 Nov 2016
Donald Trump won't be to blame for any increase in terror attacks
Muslims were one of the groups negatively labelled by president-elect Donald Trump during the US presidential election campaign.
Much has been said about the election's populist statements potentially dividing America and vilifying certain communities. Now there is concern that Trump's language on Muslims takes this step further, inciting Muslim extremists, attracting new recruits to their cause, and making the US a greater terrorist target.
And the terrorist groups themselves are leading this call.
While world leaders have been providing their congratulations – and words of caution – to Trump, in the parallel universe of terrorism, extremist leaders and their supporters have been making public statements of their own.
Leading al-Qaeda figure Abu Muhammed al-Maqdisi reportedly stated on social media that Trump's statements show the US is "at war with Islam".
SITE Intelligence Group reports an IS leader in Syria calling Trump's election "the first step towards victory" as the US will be ripped apart by division. Others point to the election to condemn the democratic process.
Al-Maqdisi ominously stated that Trump's ascension will bring more attacks on America and its allies, not only by his group but by IS and other extremists.
Is Trump responsible for bringing on the next phase of terror?
We should exercise caution when listening to terrorist commentary. Particularly when they seek to blame others for their own violent acts.
Propaganda is the lifeblood of terrorists. The US election, like other events, provides an opportunity for extremists to provide their own spin and seek to get their key messages out. And at a time when IS, in particular, is under threat in the Middle East, terrorists need to draw on whatever they can to support their cause.
Their take on the US election is spin to justify terrorism and gain support.
Islamist terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS already designate the US as their number one target. So Trump's comments would have little impact other than to provide the latest reference for their propaganda machine.
Terrorists have had strikingly limited success mounting attacks in the US, despite concerted calls for adherents to rise up and do whatever they can. Al-Maqdisi and others are seeking to take advantage of the US political environment to incite division and call for more recruits. Here they come up against America's Muslim community, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has supported and acknowledged the democratic process, while reminding the president-elect of his duty to govern for and protect all Americans.
Terrorist groups selectively use statements by political leaders to provide inspiration or justification for their cause. They also selectively quote from religious leaders and point to military and other actions where it suits their interests. IS claimed the attack in Nice was justified by French involvement in the Middle East, despite the indiscriminate targeting of the attack, including a Muslim woman being the first victim.
It's clear from Trump's policy platform that he and his supporters are keen to improve regulation of US borders, and are focussed on both homeland security and coalition counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East.
But it's highly unlikely that Trump will continue to make the kind of statements he previously made on Muslims, now that he's approaching office with its responsibility to represent and govern for all Americans.
This election tells us that Americans are concerned about what's going on in their society. This provides the opportunity to not only air grievances and concerns, but to move forward to build a more cohesive and resilient community.
The US is a strong and historic liberal democracy, with a vibrant and active civil society. Instead of taking on the propaganda of terrorists, let's listen instead to America's Muslim community, and watch and support them and others in one of the world's great democracies work together to address the issues affecting their country.
There's a lesson for Australia here. In our efforts to counter terrorism it's important we don't forget our core values of liberal democracy and respect for all members of the community. As the US election has shown, leaders need to be mindful that statements to attract one part of our community don't risk being seen to vilify others.
Terrorists will use whatever they can to support their view. But there is no justification, regardless of how controversial an issue – or a person – might be.
Trump hasn't caused terrorism and his words don't justify terrorist attacks. Terrorists alone are responsible for their violence.
Jacinta Carroll is head of Counter Terrorism Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Originally published: Sydney Morning Herald. 14 Nov 2016.