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Harsanyi: This is exactly what the Islamic State wants

David Harsanyi

President Barack Obama was recently in the Philippines getting worked up about the only thing that really grinds his gears, the GOP.

“I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for (the Islamic State group) than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here,” he said of Republicans, who were demanding a pause in the influx of Syrian refugees.

Oh, c’mon! Not one? I can. In fact, I can think of a bunch, because ever since Paris was attacked by a group of religiously unaffiliated men who happened to also yell “Allahu akbar!” before randomly shooting civilians, liberals have offered an array of conceivable causes for the proliferation of terrorism. There’s Republican rhetoric, of course. Climate change. People drawing mean cartoons about Islam. Blowback for various wars Americans have started without any provocation whatsoever.

The problem is that no matter what the GOP says these days, it is “doing exactly what the Islamic State wants” — the most popular platitude this side of “those Syrian refugees are just like baby Jesus.”

Now, the most obvious problem with that idea, of course, is that any elected official who gives two spits about what the Islamic State wants or doesn’t want when making decisions concerning immigration or foreign policy — or any policy, for that matter — is being incomprehensibly irresponsible. The idea that a nation would wage war or not because its enemy is trying to elicit a certain kind of reaction is absurd.

What the Islamic State wants is to kill infidels and build a caliphate. And perhaps it has wishes that it will one day sincerely regret. There are innumerable instances throughout history when groups or nations initiated wars that they would disastrously lose. Maybe if terrorists target civilians because they want to be martyrs, we should help them achieve that life goal. Call it a win-win if you like.

But the “that’s-what-the-terrorists-want” canard tells us something else about how progressives view this issue. For example, they misrepresent or misunderstand what the Islamic State desires because they are often unwilling to concede the most obvious motivation of terrorism: faith. And they misrepresent what conservatives believe for political reasons. The Islamic State doesn’t hate refugees as a matter of principle. Maybe the Islamic State hates people who were once allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad or other Shiite terror groups. Now, I would hate them, too, of course, but that’s exactly what the Islamic State wants, I bet.

If Americans want to be more vigilant — or even stop the influx of refugees from Syria and Libya completely — it doesn’t mean that people hate anyone. We’ll see what polling says on this topic, but the majority of Americans are already rightfully concerned about how well Islam comports with American society.

And about this nonsense about conservatives wanting the same “clash of civilizations” that the Islamic State does — maybe we are in a global conflict with an illiberal theology that too often manifests in violence. Certainly, it’s not a war with all Muslims. In fact, Republicans are the ones incessantly pressuring political leaders to affix qualifiers such as “radical” and “extremist” to the word “Islam.”

Liberals aren’t the only ones using the that’s-what-the-terrorists-want formulation, by the way. Rick Santorum argued this week that admitting not only Muslims but also Christians is a bad idea because “in so doing we would be accomplishing exactly what (the Islamic State) wants to accomplish, which is to rid the area of Christians” and “moderate Muslims.” So if Christians are refugees in Jordan and have no other country in the Middle East to emigrate to where they could be safe and prosper in the long term, we should force them to go back to Syria because that’s exactly what the Islamic State doesn’t want?

Seems counterintuitive, to say the least.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at the Federalist.