The U.S. is expected to lead the fight against Islamic State (IS). The polarization of the nation and the general targeting of a population due to their religion will not aid this cause. In fact, it plays into the hands of IS propaganda of spurring insecurity and radicalizing more people.
Using global threats to mobilize political support for an election campaign is not new. It is important to understand that although a material threat exists (IS), the use of the security rhetoric also creates the parameters through which the public will perceive this material threat. So far attention has been shifted away from finding viable strategies on how to counter the threat posed by IS. If one listens to the positions of candidates such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, they will assume that the solution to IS is the barring of Muslims from entering the U.S.
For a candidate to win the GOP they usually need to veer towards the far right and attract the party’s conservative voters. Trump's proposals are founded within the general perception that immigration is one of the main security threats to the U.S. According to the 2013 PEW Research Poll - 55% of Americans believed that there was an increase in illegal immigration, compared to previous years. Despite government figures stating that illegal immigration has declined over the past several years because of a more rigorous screening process.
This perception of increased illegal immigration is founded upon the security rhetoric dominating the GOP. The advantages of this rhetoric do not overweigh the disadvantages. On the one hand, it might aid a candidate to gain the political support required to sustain a strong momentum. On the other hand, it fans the flames of radicalization by reinstating a war on Islam rather than on IS.
In the past few years, the world has moved away from Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”. The recent election heat, combined with IS attacks in Paris, has provided this notion with a lifeline. The Paris attacks should not be seen as an act of revenge, despite IS propaganda stating otherwise. Instead, they were clearly acts of calculated provocation, meant to push our buttons of mass retaliation and deepen the notion of “us vs. them” or the solidification of the “other”. This results in the obsession of identifying a tangible “other” that we need to contain or even destroy to protect our way of life.
It is this reaction that IS propaganda calls for – “the extinction of the grey zone” and the sharpening of distinctions in every single sphere of interaction. The movement towards a black-and-white world where civilizations will be pitted against each other. GOP candidates have chosen to fall into the trap of calling for “a civilizational conflict with Radical Islam”, as Marco Rubio did, to gather public support. This might help them rise up in the GOP polls, but it undermines U.S. national security, the very aspect they are trying to protect.
These grey zones enable the coexistence of communities and the marginalization of radicalism. The politics of “building walls” will only increase the rate at which our world shifts into a dualistic black-and-white playing field. It is important for presidential candidates and the public to understand the dangers of engaging in targeting specific populations based on religion or nationality, as the short-term benefits of doing so will not outweigh long-term threats to U.S. national security.
*The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not represent those of The Political Analysis.