Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sounds a lot like a Republican presidential candidate: Like GOP candidates, he thinks there is a religious war between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Why the Leader of ISIS Sounds Like a Republican Presidential Candidate

Why the Leader of ISIS Sounds Like a Republican Presidential Candidate

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
May 15 2015 4:55 PM

Preaching to the Choir

ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sounds like a Republican candidate for president.

The reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, during his first public appearance at a mosque in the center of Mosul, Iraq, on July 5, 2014, in this still image taken from video.

Photo by Reuters TV/Reuters

One of the hot issues in the 2016 presidential election is how to deal with terror and slaughter in the name of Islam. President Obama and Hillary Clinton refuse to call such violence Islamic. They insist that Muslims are victims, not allies, of ISIS and al-Qaida.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

The Republican candidates for president say this reluctance to associate Islam with jihadi violence is naïve, wimpy, and dangerous. “We need a commander in chief who will once and for all call it what it is, and that is that radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to us all,” says Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Rick Santorum agrees: “Islam is an ideology. And we need to be honest about the American public about what the nature of our enemy really is.” Sen. Marco Rubio promises a Reaganesque crusade:

[W]e must restore America’s willingness to think big—to state boldly what we stand for and why it is right. Just as Reagan never flinched in his criticisms of the Soviet Union’s political and economic repressions, we must never shy away from demanding that China allow true freedom for its 1.3 billion people. Nor should we hesitate in calling the source of atrocities in the Middle East by its real name—radical Islam.
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The Republicans don’t just call the enemy Islamic. They criticize Clinton and Obama for preaching coexistence. At last weekend’s South Carolina Freedom Summit, they laughed off the Crusades and defended mockery of Islam. Carly Fiorina, a former Republican Senate nominee now running for president, demanded to know why Clinton has advocated “religious tolerance” and “the need to empathize with our enemies while Christians are being beheaded and crucified.”

Republicans who talk this way think they’re being tough. In reality, however, they’re aiding the enemy. They’re doing for ISIS what they did for al-Qaida: assisting its recruitment, social media, and political strategy. Rhetorically, ISIS and the GOP are in perfect harmony.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On Thursday his media team released a speech in which the would-be caliph presents his views on Islam, tolerance, and sectarian violence. Baghdadi sounds like a Republican candidate for president. Here’s what he says:

1. This is a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. ISIS, like al-Qaida, can’t wage a global or even regional war with 30,000 fighters. To build popular support, it needs to frame the conflict in religious terms. That’s why Baghdadi agrees with American conservatives who say our enemy is Islam:

O Muslims! Do not think the war that we are waging is the Islamic State’s war alone. Rather, it is the Muslims’ war altogether. It is the war of every Muslim in every place. … O Muslims everywhere, has the time not come for you to realize the truth of the conflict and that it is between disbelief and faith? … This war is only against you and against your religion.
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2. Coexistence is impossible. Is authentic Islam compatible with Western values? Many conservative activists and politicians say it isn’t. This belief suits Baghdadi. He tells Muslims that they must choose:

O Muslims! Whoever thinks that it is within his capacity to conciliate with the Jews, Christians, and other disbelievers, and for them to conciliate with him, such that he coexists with them and they coexist with him while he is upon his religion and upon tawhīd (monotheism), then he has belied the explicit statement of his Lord (the Mighty and Majestic), who says, “And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. … And they will continue to fight you until they turn you back from your religion.”

3. Islam is a religion of war. Santorum, Rudy Giuliani, and other Republicans say ISIS has a scriptural basis for its violence. Two weeks ago Jeb Bush said “part” of the Muslim world was “not a religion of peace.” Baghdadi, too, rejects the religion-of-peace narrative:

O Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war. Your Prophet (peace be upon him) was dispatched with the sword as a mercy to the creation. He was ordered with war until Allah is worshipped alone. He (peace be upon him) said to the polytheists of his people, “I came to you with slaughter.” … He never for a day grew tired of war.
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The religion-of-war narrative, whatever its scholarly merits, serves political interests on both sides. It gives the Republicans red meat for the primaries, and it helps Baghdadi persuade Muslims that they’re commanded by God to support ISIS.

4. America doesn’t care about Muslim civilian casualties or civil liberties. Baghdadi says followers of Islam should stand with him because they can’t trust Western governments to protect their rights or spare their innocents. He warns Muslims:

And if the Crusaders today claim to avoid the Muslim public and to confine themselves to targeting the armed amongst them, then soon you will see them targeting every Muslim everywhere. And if the Crusaders today have begun to bother the Muslims who continue to live in the lands of the cross by monitoring them, arresting them, and questioning them, then soon they will begin to displace them and take them away either dead, imprisoned, or homeless.

Republicans seem determined to prove Baghdadi right. A few years ago, Rubio, Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, and other GOP leaders denounced peaceful Muslim pluralists for proposing to build a mosque in Manhattan near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Last weekend in South Carolina, Santorum complained that most of the planes we’re flying over ISIS territory “come back not having dropped their ordnance.” Apparently, Santorum thinks the military is too careful in its selection and examination of targets.

The convergence of Republican rhetoric with jihadist propaganda isn’t new. It’s been building ever since George W. Bush left the White House. Liberated from presidential responsibility, Republicans degenerated into a party that uses Islam for domestic politics instead of thinking about how their words resonate overseas. That’s how they became backup singers for Osama Bin Laden. Now they’re working for Baghdadi. Remind me again who’s naïve.