I am no Donald Trump fan, but I think he deserves credit when it's due. He also deserves defending when people lie about him or make flimsy arguments against him.
And we get both in a new piece in TIME, authored by Alyssa Sims, a policy analyst in New America's International Security Program. It deals with Trump's suggestion to form a "radical Islam commission", headed by Rudy Guiliani, to investigate...well, radical Islam.
Sims first cites Trump's Muslim immigration moratorium as evidence of his "Islamophobia" - although as I have argued previously, it is a perfectly sensible suggestion that its opponents have not come up with a remotely viable alternative to. She then claims he "also suggested a mandatory registry of American Muslims". Actually, he did not. Watch the video here: he was asked by a journalist about creating a database of Muslims in America (the journalist, apparently, came up with the idea), and he responded about the need for a registry of all immigrants entering the US (i.e. not just Muslims) to ensure that people aren't entering the country illegally. Despite the journalist repeatedly mentioning Muslims, Trump is clearly talking about illegal immigrants the entire time - and he even seems to have gone back on that as well, as evidenced by the Tweet he posted just after the controversy:
Trump does this all the time: he doesn't listen to the questions he's asked, and just answers his own question inside his head. A few weeks ago, during an interview on MSNBC, he was asked whether abortion should be made illegal in the US. He replied: “The answer is there has to be some form of punishment." When the interviewer asked, "For the woman?" he responded instantly in the affirmative. It was clear to me upon seeing the interview that he hadn't listened to the question properly, and just butted in with an answer without thinking. That became clear the following day when he completely retracted his answer and said: “If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed – like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
The message here is that Trump is incoherent and incapable of giving a solid answer or maintaining a strong position on almost anything. He proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, but now seems to be softening on it, and even offered to make an exemption for the new extremist-linked Muslim Mayor of London, which would completely belie the point of his original proposal. Any "analyst" should be able to see this easily and so shouldn't be peddling the "Muslim registry" lie.
Sims then moves on to her criticism of Trump's "radical Islam commission" plan, by asserting that since there have been terror attacks in the US committed by American-born Muslims, such as the San Bernadino shooting and the Fort Hood attack, therefore a "commission on foreign-born Muslims would not have been relevant."
Which is true, except that Trump wasn't calling for a commission on foreign-born Muslims. Here's the quote from the CNN article Sims links to:
"It's a real problem, so we'll figure it out and we will get it going but we have to be extremely careful," Trump said Wednesday on Fox News, in response to a question about his proposed ban on allowing Muslims to enter the U.S., before switching to the subject of "radical Islamic terrorism." "In fact, I'm thinking about setting up a commission perhaps headed by Rudy Giuliani to take a very serious look at this problem. But this is a worldwide problem and we have to be smart."So once again, we can see that Trump was asked a question, and responded by answering a different question - in this case, he was talking about dealing with Islamic jihad terrorism as a "worldwide problem", and not just investigating Muslim immigrants.
Sims next says that such a commission would be ineffective in dealing with terrorism, because it "dismisses tragedies such as the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting and the Charleston Church shooting, both which took place in 2015 and were carried out by individuals motivated by ideologies that are non-jihadist in character—specifically Christian conservatism and white supremacy." She also claims that "[s]ince 2001, right wing extremists have claimed more victims in terror attacks than jihadists."
This is a highly misleading and tendentious piece of analysis, based on an equally flawed study. Firstly, it leaves out 9/11 for some reason, which would drastically alter the balance of deaths between Islamic jihadis and "right-wing extremists". Secondly, it also ignores scores of foiled Islamic terror plots that would have killed thousands Americans if they had not been stopped by intelligence and law enforcement. Thirdly, the figures ignore a large number of actual Islamic terror attacks on American soil and do not count them in the analysis. Fourthly, it ignores the implications of the fact that even if the data is accurate, this means that Muslims account for about the same number of terror attacks in America as right-wing extremists, despite the fact that Muslims make up 1% of the US population, and right-wingers considerably more. Finally, the "right-wing extremists" being compared to Islamic jihadis are mostly paranoid loners who are not connected to any larger movement with a clearly articulated goal. In contrast, Islamic jihadists are members of or ideologically aligned with groups that have declared their intention to destroy the U.S. and the free world, and all draw their inspiration from a fourteen-century old belief system that has been the driving force behind over 28,000 terror attacks since 9/11. A scattered handful of individuals with incoherent opinions (note to Alyssa Sims: having opinions on certain issues such as race is not the same thing as an ideology) really cannot be equated to a global movement of loosely aligned groups and individuals acting in accord with a clearly defined established corpus of law and thought (i.e. Islamic law).
Finally Sims argues that "[c]reating an anti-terrorism program specifically targeting 'radical Islam' perpetuates an on-going narrative that the U.S. is at war with Islam, a religion practiced by more than a billion Muslims around the world," and that since ISIS themselves also perpetuate this myth, such a thing would therefore be counter-productive.
Firstly, it takes someone clearly interested in bending the truth to fit their argument to assert that setting up a panel on "radical Islam" somehow gives the impression of targeting all of Islam. Would my mission here to discredit Alyssa Sims' poor analysis really give off the impression that I am against all analysis? This line of reasoning is absolute nonsense.
But there is a deeper issue at play here. Sims' assumption is that any attempts to investigate the serious problem of Islamic terrorism just leads to more terrorism, and that ISIS and their ilk are just waiting around to see what Islamophobes say about Islam before determining their policy. It never occurs to her that the terrorists might have their own source of policy - i.e. the Qur'an - that will guide their behaviour regardless of what we say about them. An ISIS statement - loaded with Qur'an quotes - released a couple of years ago said:
And so we promise you by Allah’s permission that this campaign will be your final campaign. It will be broken and defeated, just as all your previous campaigns were broken and defeated, except that this time we will raid you thereafter, and you will never raid us. We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted. This is His promise to us; He is glorified and He does not fail in His promise. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.
It really does not sound to me from this as if there is anything we could say to them that would cause them to dispel their misconceptions about a war between Islam and the West. It is also worth mentioning that although Sims states that Trump's rhetoric is the reason for Islamic State's increased recruitment, ISIS propaganda videos actually frequently feature Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama more often than Donald Trump, demonstrating that their attempts at appeasement by calling Islam a Religion of Peace clearly are not working very well.
All in all, it's another piss-poor piece of analysis designed to weaken our attempts to defend ourselves against Islamic jihad terror. Donald Trump may be all over the place and self-contradictory, but a crude sort of common sense apparently causes him to get the right end of the stick on these issues quite often. But even that seems to be beyond the capabilities of Alyssa Sims.