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ISIS’s intriguing silence about Donald Trump’s approach to Muslims

A page from the Rumiyah magazine published by Islamic State.

Pages from a Rumiyah magazine published by Islamic State in 2017.

PARIS (RNS) With his anti-Muslim rhetoric and planned travel bans, you’d think President Trump would be a favorite target for Islamic State’s propaganda. The jihadist caliphate in Syria and Iraq must be pulling out all the stops to slam him as the epitome of Islamophobia.

Well, think again. The extremist group that Trump vows to “totally obliterate” has hardly printed or broadcast a word about him since before the November election. The caliphate’s Ministry of Media acts almost as if he didn’t exist.

One theory is that the group — also known as ISIS, ISIL or the Arabic acronym Daesh — is too busy defending its largest city, Mosul, which is about to fall to advancing Iraqi troops backed by a U.S.-led coalition. That would allow it little time or staff to focus on the strikingly professional videos and online magazines it has been producing over the past few years.

Its propaganda output has gradually shrunk as it slowly lost captured territory over the past two years. But analysts studying the caliphate’s communications strategy don’t think this explains why Islamic State says nothing about the man who mesmerizes the media everywhere else.

“It is deeply intriguing that Islamic State hasn’t said anything about Trump,” said Charlie Winter, senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London.

“I think there is a vision behind this and that vision dictates that by not saying anything, they can let the car crash by itself,” he told RNS.

Candidate Donald Trump discusses Islam during an interview on CNN in March 2016. Screenshot from CNN

The key to understanding this strategy, analysts like Winter say, is to focus on the way that Islamist extremists interpret political discussion in the West. They insist that all non-Muslim westerners are “Crusaders” who hate Islam and their soothing talk about interfaith harmony or integration of Muslims is a lie to defend a “gray zone” of godless pluralism and multiculturalism.

In this view, Islamic State’s gruesome beheading videos and bloody terror attacks around the world aim to destroy that gray zone, unmask this western hatred of Islam and drive oppressed Muslims to emigrate to their caliphate.

Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama were often vilified in Islamic State media for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, U.S. support of Israel and many other aspects of the “Crusade” the militants saw them waging against Muslims.

Obama’s speeches were frequently used as a “rhetorical prop for their propaganda,” said Winter. “They would have him saying, for example, ‘there are no U.S. troops fighting in Iraq’ — and then cut to US troops fighting against the IS in Iraq.”

“In Islamic State’s representations, they were hypocrites, talking about democracy, human rights and freedom while their practices were being guided by self-interest,” explained Pieter Nanninga, assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Islamic State regularly publishes reports of its violent activities, including figures on car bombings, snipings and stabbings. An infographic outlining these acts appeared in this 2013 publication.

“In their view, Trump is at least open about his anti-Muslim policies,” he told RNS.

Islamic State still regularly releases its online magazines in at least half a dozen languages and puts out several videos per week. Those are mainly clips about battles they wage, but some also focus on recent events and topics as far off as the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

“They are still quite up to date,” Nanninga said. “This suggests that their silence on Trump is a conscious choice.”

In effect, Islamic State has no need to present Trump as a strident Islamophobe because the president’s own words and deeds play right into their worldview.

“They can let Trump do all the rhetorical damage without aiding him at all and without tarnishing the anti-Islamic brand he’s creating for himself and the anti-Islamic surge of populism that he’s riding upon,” Winter said.

“They see that what they’ve long hoped for is now happening,” Nanninga added. “Because of Trump and the polarization he’s causing, Muslims would be forced to make a choice — do they belong to the infidel West or to the caliphate?”

A tweet by an ISIS follower critiquing Donald Trump on Nov. 9, 2016.

That doesn’t stop Islamic State sympathizers from slamming Trump on their Twitter, Telegram and other social media accounts. One picture bouncing around the Internet shows an image of Trump under a saying by the Prophet Muhammad: “The hour will not come until the worst of you inherits the world.”

Another one shows a picture of the president overwritten with a similar quote from Muhammad: “When the power or authority comes to the hands of unfit persons, then wait for the (final) Hour.”

Amarnath Amarasingam, senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London, has canvassed militants’ views of Trump in interviews over social media with foreign Muslims who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight for the caliphate.

The interviewees subscribed to the “gray zone” theory that the U.S. president is pushing Muslims into Islamic State’s hands. “I think he is good for us,” a Canadian fighter told Amarasingam, referring to Trump. “We needed someone like him, who is direct.”

The latest edition of Islamic State’s slick online magazine Rumiyah, which came out in early March, still had no mention of Trump. Except for fleeting glimpses in two videos issued since November, his face has also been absent from its broadcasts.

The analysts are unsure how long this silence can last. The IS Ministry of Media could be waiting for the right moment, maybe if Trump’s planned travel ban actually comes into effect, or Muslims start to leave the U.S. for the caliphate rather than Canada.

“The moratorium on Trump is not going to be a permanent fixture,” Winter said. “There will come a stage where they might make a campaign of videos pulling together various things that he’s said.

“The Islamic State media guys are very restrained in what they do,” Winter added. “We’ve seen that in the past with executions, negotiations, terrorism. They know how to wait for the right moment and I just wonder if that’s what they’re doing with Trump.”

(Tom Heneghan is a correspondent based in Paris)

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Tom Heneghan

Tom Heneghan is a Paris-based correspondent

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  • DAESH hardly needs to use Trump’s rhetoric as propaganda– it works as propaganda without pointing to it. The more effective question would be, once the DAESH deaths from the military campaigns in Iraq and Syria are factored out, has membership in DAESH grown or fallen since the 2016 election?

  • ISIS loves Trump
    http://time.com/4480945/isis-donald-trump/

    “one ISIS spokesman wrote: “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” Another supporter declared:
    “The ‘facilitation’ of Trump’s arrival in the White House must be a
    priority for jihadists at any cost!!!” ISIS is working to drum up
    support for the candidate it has called “the perfect enemy.””

    “When Trump says hateful things about Muslims, it proves that jihadists
    are right to fight against the West, because the West is against Islam.”
    As a result, his ideas fuel the group’s efforts to radicalize and
    mobilize its followers to take action. In fact, Trump himself has been
    featured in ISIS propaganda videos following the Brussels attack and the Orlando massacre.”

    Trump’s statements also serve to isolate and alienate the same Muslim
    Americans who must be our partners in this fight. They’re often on the
    front lines against ISIS in its effort to radicalize those who are
    disaffected or otherwise susceptible to its hateful message.

    “Isis hails Donald Trump’s Muslim immigration restrictions as a ‘blessed ban'”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration-iraq-iran-restrictions-travel-islamic-state-us-visa-a7552856.html

    Several posts suggested that the prediction of Anwar al-Awlaki – a
    US-born al Qaeda leader killed in Yemen in 2011 – that “the West would
    eventually turn against its Muslim citizens” was coming true.

  • The comments above quote “Isis-friendly channels on Telegram”, “interviews with ISIS members” and “an ISIS spokesman … on an ISIS-affiliated outlet”. The story accounts for them, saying that “Islamic State sympathizers (are) slamming Trump on their Twitter, Telegram and other social media accounts.” But the official rpt official ISIS media outlets — not some accounts on Twitter or a vague and unnamed “ISIS-affiliated outlet” — have been all but mum about Trump. The ISIS-friendly mediasphere is big, but the Ministry of Media’s output of official videos and online publications like Rumiyah is smaller, and that is the focus of this article. The question about Daesh membership since the 2016 election is a very good one which I have not researched. I also haven’t seen any articles about this and would imagine it is hard to have more than a vague estimate of the real numbers involved. Any figures put out by Daesh itself would have to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • While self deluding braindeads feed on the delusional BS of “fighting terrorists” ragtag ignorants riding donkeys and American made Ford pickups while magically supplied and resupplied with American munitions and weapons to kill a few folks and continually feed propaganda, fear and war contractors… these humanity betraying, demonically greedy, genocidal western ‘christian’ death mongers and their corporate pimps are getting filthy rich feverishly extracting the public treasury in their slow, methodical destruction of humanity and planet. The greatest threat to your life is the oil/methane addicted, parasitic US Congress, Period!

    And just as soon as these rabid, detached animals finish bringing freedom and liberty to Syria, Iran is next, using your ‘patriotic’ children and money, b/c their precious Wahhabi head-choppin princes can’t do it alone. Yemen has been savagely annihilated by these ‘christian’ death merchants and Iran is the only ‘enemy’ left that has claims to the largest methane reserves in the world underneath the Persian Gulf.

    And then maybe China’s north korean province will be obliterated, after (or before) Iran, to stop, or slow the Chinese from the pure, crystalized methane under the South China Sea …in their belligerent, satanic pursuit of dominance and control of the multi-$trillion global methane markets.

    They thrive on the anguish, misery, despair, death and destruction of humanity …the more of it, the richer the become. Real Evil knows no end!

    If ‘uhmurukuns’ had a brain they would take it out and play with it. They wouldn’t know God/Truth if he stood in front of them. Just read the comments on this board and any other…

    “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” – Hillary Clinton

    “Why of course the people don’t want war … But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
    – Hermann Goering, Nazi leader

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKV1sTw8zOc

    https://www.thenation.com/article/how-many-missions-has-the-us-military-carried-out-in-africa-no-one-knows-for-sure/

    http://johnpilger.com/videos/utopia

    http://www.businessinsider.com/gods-bankers-financial-scandals-at-the-vatican-2015-2

    https://archive.org/stream/WarIsARacket/WarIsARacket_djvu.txt

    http://www.salon.com/2015/11/18/this_is_why_they_hate_us_the_real_american_history_neither_ted_cruz_nor_the_new_york_times_will_tell_you/

    http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncol1.html

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