Monday, December 19 saw two horrific events -- the murder of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey and an attack in Berlin that was similar to last summer’s truck attack in Nice, France. Those tragic events were the genesis of another one -- president-elect Trump’s decision to label them both, with no evidence to support him, acts of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Police in Turkey and Germany are trying to sort through the details of what happened. In the case of the Russian ambassador the shooter shouted “Allahu akbar” as he fired. But he also shouted “don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria,” leading many to suspect that the attack was motivated by politics rather than religion. Russia is the major sponsor of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, whose government forces have been largely responsible for the human tragedy that has played out in Aleppo.
ISIS took credit for the German attack on Tuesday. They issued a statement saying it had been carried out by a “soldier of the Islamic State” who had responded to the group’s call for attacks on citizens in countries participating in the international coalition that is fighting against it.
However, long before any evidence or claims of responsibility emerged, the incoming American president had made up his mind. Trump first released a statement on the shooting, calling it the work of a “radical Islamic terrorist.” A short time later the man who will soon take the reins of the American government issued a similar statement on the Berlin attack, saying “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”
Trump’s willingness to immediately blame both events on radical Islam didn’t sit well with Maine Senator Angus King. On Tuesday morning King spoke to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, where he called out Trump for rushing to judgement with accusations that may or may not prove to be correct.
Cuomo started the conversation by noting that calling events such as these “radical Islamic terrorism” is “satisfying to the American people.” He wanted to know why King has a problem with Trump defining both events the same way. King didn't hesitate with his response. He told Cuomo:
Well, the problem is, Chris, that simple answers to complicated questions are usually wrong.
In this case, it appears that, number one, we don't really know the facts, so it's premature to come to a conclusion, but number 2, it appears that the attack in Turkey on the Russian ambassador wasn't a religious attack but was a political one, revenge for what's going on in Aleppo.
The senator went on to say that simply calling every event such as these “Islamic terrorism” would “only inflame tensions and conceivably make them worse.” He asked, rhetorically, “Do we really want to have a war of half the world against the other half of the world?”
If you’re a sane, rational person, the answer to that question is of course, “no.” But Trump continues to eschew diplomacy and rational thought, showing a willingness, perhaps even a desire, to bring about a war between Islam and the remainder of the world.
To his credit, George W. Bush made it clear after 9/11 that the United States was not at war with Islam. But Trump has no interest in diplomatic pleasantries, and is simply willing to speak off the cuff and let the chips fall where they may.
If a Muslim is involved in any kind of attack, should we immediately declare it the work of Islamic extremists, as Trump did? Senator King worries that statements such as Trump’s could serve to radicalize others in the Muslim community.
Beyond that, the president of the United States is a person the world looks toward as a voice of reason, and they expect a measured response. Off the cuff statements such as the one issued by Trump are the exact opposite of reasonable. They would be ill-advised coming from the leader of any country. But coming from the POTUS they are inexcusable and dangerous.
Wars are sometimes started over the simplest of provocations. And in less than a month America will have a president who is willing to make statements on anything and everything, regardless of whether he has any evidence to support what he says. His use of social media is even more dangerous, as it’s not entirely clear who if anyone reviews Trump’s tweets before he sends them out. We can at least assume that statements and press releases are vetted before distribution. Tweets? Not so much.
World War II started when Hitler invaded Poland. Will World War III start with Donald Trump responding to a world event in 140 characters or less?