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Opinion: 'Islamic State' taps into American angst

Donald Trump and other presidential candidates are exploiting the rise of the "Islamic State" for campaign purposes. That distresses Americans and play into the hands of the terror groups, DW's Gero Schliess writes.

Has the United States already lost the war against "Islamic State" (IS)? It almost seems so. The organization can consider itself successful at the moment. Its unbridled brutality and the recent attacks at the heart of Europe show that it will not only kill and spread terror but also destroy ways of life it consider abhorrent. IS wants its ideology of violence and repression to prevail over freedom and humanity in the battle of ideas and values.

Politicians worldwide have called for unity against IS. But the United States is more divided than ever: The nation does not know how to live out its values in the shadow of the omnipresent threat of terrorism.

The United States is considered to be the motherland of freedom. The Statue of Liberty has conveyed its appeal to the most remote slums and the darkest dungeons in the world. It is the symbol of a welcoming culture that offered persecuted individuals and outcasts around the world protection and a new lease on life.

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App

DW's Gero Schließ

This ideal no longer applies to refugees from Syria. According to recent polls, more than half of US citizens do not want Syrians in the country. That fits in with the country's politics: An overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives voted to suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States.

A brave nation

The United States is not known to be a fearful nation. It has sent its soldiers to the most dangerous crisis regions in the world and overcame the horrible September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington. People in the United States believe in themselves because of this history.

Things have changed now with presidential primary campaigns underway and the shameful tirades that Republican candidates have indulged in. The falsehoods and contempt that they have expressed in public appearances actually encourage IS. Presidential candidates, especially Donald Trump, spread fear, horror, hate and distrust in the population. He has put Syrian refugees under general suspicion of terrorism and extended the disgraceful suspicion to all Muslim communities in the United States. He untruthfully claims that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the September 11 attacks.

To the applause of his followers, the billionaire has threatened to put every single mosque in the country under surveillance and to have all Muslims registered in a national database. The love of freedom has yielded to narrowmindedness. Helpfulness has disappeared in the face of suspicion, which has then turned into rejection. Many Muslim communities in the United States have experienced open racism.

Such notions give IS two advantages: The organization demonstrates its power over the American way of life and Trump and like-minded political figures may succeed in alienating individuals and even making IS look attractive to them. Depending on their personalities, people who feel marginalized may succumb to ideological recruitment methods. But that is not a law of nature. It is high time that moderate Republicans stand up and clearly distance themselves from everyone who argues like Trump.

President Obama must also nail his colors to the mast in discussions with right-wing Republicans. It is often obvious that he is weary of this conflict, but it is not enough to feel intellectually superior. Obama must reach out to the people. The day before Thanksgiving, he surprisingly appeared with his security team in front of cameras to give the very insecure Americans a sense of safety. He made the right move to alleviate fears and to de-emotionalize the irrational debate about terrorism and refugees. But the goal has not been attained. Much more is at stake. This is ultimately about the American spirit and the American dream.

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