It isn’t a coincidence that Germany suffered a terrorist attack right as Angela Merkel is facing a serious re-election battle. This will make her campaign more difficult for her, which is exactly what ISIS wants. ISIS wants Merkel to lose, and they wanted Trump to win. Every far-right nationalist victory in Europe is a victory for ISIS. ISIS and the Western extreme right want the same thing — a war between Christianity and Islam.
ISIS and the Western far-right radicals both recruit using fear. ISIS recruits by convincing angry, socially isolated young men that the West has declared war on Islam. The alt-right recruits by convincing angry, socially isolated young men that Muslims, black people, immigrants, LGBT people, and feminists are destroying the white Christian male way of life. Trump won by exploiting white Christians’ fear of losing supremacy in their country and the world. Far-right nationalist parties in Europe are winning elections and gaining ground by exploiting fears of Middle Eastern immigrants.
In order to wage their war for political power, ISIS needs to be able to recruit a lot of people. They don’t care about their recruits’ lives (or the lives of innocent civilians), so human cost is not a question. The only question is the ability to recruit enough people that they can throw those bodies at their enemies. George W. Bush understood this, so he was careful never to conflate Al-Qaeda and other radicals with the religion of Islam. Barack Obama followed the same tactic. Obama doesn’t use the terms Islamic or Muslim radicals/terrorists because he doesn’t want to invite the perception that he is at war with Islam.
Furthermore, ISIS doesn’t exist because of religious devotion. They exist to further their own political power. Donald Trump prefers to call ISIS radical Islamists because he does want a war with Islam. General Flynn, the incoming National Security Adviser, sees Islam as an existential threat to Christianity. He wants a global war that will pit Islam and Christianity against each other — a fight to the death. He has called Islam a “cancer” and said fear of Muslims is “rational.”
There will be more ISIS-led or inspired attacks in Europe and the United States. Every time one of those attacks occurs, Western far-right radicals will use them as an opportunity to ramp up their constituents’ fear and hatred. California State Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez did just that when she used one attack to declare that we must “stand up” against an entire religion.
Islam is a religion of 1.6 billion people. Not only is a war against 1.6 billion people morally wrong, it is a losing proposition. ISIS and the Western extremist right are determined to end up on a collision course to global war, and they do not care about the human cost. General Flynn won’t lose his life. ISIS’ leaders don’t endanger their own lives. Eric Trump won’t be out on the front lines.
The people who will suffer are the ordinary people who never wanted a global war between civilizations. The people who will suffer and die are people like you, and me, and the people of Aleppo. ISIS and Western far-right extremists want the same thing. So don’t give it to them. Refuse to be afraid. Refuse to stereotype. Refuse to generalize an entire religion based off of the actions of a small number of individuals. Extremism fighting extremism results in death and destruction. We must respond with moderation, thoughtfulness, and inclusion.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and has been reprinted with permission. You can read more Erika Heidewald on Twitter and Facebook, and follow the Rose Resistance on Twitter and Facebook as well.
Photo: Laszlo Ilyes/Creative Commons