Donald Trump’s reaction to Orlando plays into ISIS’s hands

The Observer editorial board

Paola Polanyi hugs her daughter Beata Martinez as they visit a memorial for the Orlando victims on Monday.
Paola Polanyi hugs her daughter Beata Martinez as they visit a memorial for the Orlando victims on Monday. Getty Images

It feels almost disrespectful to focus on Donald Trump in the aftermath of the most horrific mass shooting in American history. Why give credence to his outlandish statements when there is so much to be said about the victims, terrorist threats, LGBT hatred and sane limits on gun ownership?

Two reasons: Trump could be the next president of the United States, and his reaction in the biggest moment of the presidential campaign so far laid bare just what a poor leader he would be. And perhaps even more importantly, Trump’s rhetoric and policies are more than offensive – they’re dangerous because they play right into ISIS’s hands.

Trump made a bizarre – even for him – insinuation on Monday: That President Obama identifies with radical Islamists and was complicit in the Orlando attack.

He told Fox News: “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind – you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”

Trump added: “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands – it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable.”

He also repeated his call for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country and said he would block the entry of Syrian refugees who could be a “Trojan Horse” for terrorism. He says it’s OK for the U.S. to kill terrorists’ families and other civilians. He said many Muslims in America know of plots but don’t alert authorities.

His refusal to distinguish between Islamic terrorists and peaceful Muslims provides exactly the fodder ISIS hopes for. ISIS portrays Western efforts to combat its extremism as a war on the entire religion. Trump makes that propaganda believable to would-be recruits.

Slate’s William Saletan wrote Monday about a May 21 ISIS statement that frets over moderate Muslims speaking out against jihad. To combat that, ISIS claims the world is against all Muslims, not just extremists.

The ISIS message makes three arguments: that the West turns a blind eye to Bashar al-Assad’s murder of his own Syrian citizens; that we are indifferent to Syrian refugees; and that it’s OK to kill Western civilians because that’s what we do in Muslim countries.

“On each of these three points,” Saletan says, “Trump’s rhetoric and agenda support ISIS. … In short, Trump would undercut everything that’s working against ISIS.”

A smarter response? Focus our attacks on ISIS, not all Muslims. Teach today’s children to respect one another, regardless of whom they love. And, for goodness sake, pass laws that would prevent an FBI-investigated terror suspect – or anyone else – from legally purchasing a military rifle capable of killing a large number of people as quickly as possible.