* Dr. Wang Zhen is a research professor and program director at the Institute of China Studies, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). He is the author of The U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy during the Transformation Period of the Cold War (1969-1976): Cases of India, Israel and Taiwan (Beijing, 2013) and A New Theory on the Global War on Terrorism (Beijing, 2018).
Republished from the Hong Kong China-US Focus
On 27 October, President Donald Trump announced Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was shot and killed, in what was perceived as a remarkable victory for the US war against terrorism. In the meantime, a mass shooting accident that took place in Greenville Texas killed at least 2 people, and injured 14. According to a website called Gun Violence Archive, as of 27 October, 32,093 lives have been taken in 345 gun violence incidents in the US this year. The irony could not have been more poignant.
In recent years, the ISIS replaced Al-Qaeda as the new standard-bearer championing the global jihad movement, and Baghdadi is the highest commander and spiritual leader of ISIS. On this account, what the US has pulled off is by no means a small feat. But it shouldn’t be exaggerated either. First, the assertion of Baghdadi’s death needs to be validated and verified. As early as in 2017, there was a rumor that Baghdadi was killed in a battle in Mosul. Second, the ISIS has grown more decentralized with networked presence across borders, which means the death of Baghdadi, if confirmed, would not put a stop to its infiltration across borders, still less its demise. Third, the whole world is on the cusp of a renewed round of cross border jihadi movement, and the momentum will not be reversed with or without Baghdadi. It is impossible for the US to stay intact if the rest of the world is plagued by terrorism.
Since the 911 incident, domestic anti-terrorism deployment has been intensified to a degree unseen before, thus having greatly undercut capacity of overseas terrorists to wreak havoc. But homegrown terrorism has become a grave threat. Bruce Hoffman and other experts pointed out in 2010 that the number of American citizens joining extreme and violent organizations after 911 had gone up, and American citizens were playing a more prominent role in terrorist activities. The University of George Washington and the International Center for Counter Terrorism released a joint study with the finding that since 2014, the majority of terrorist attacks in the US and Europe were launched by their own citizens.
At the heart of Trump’s anti-terrorism policy is “America First”, which guides him to recklessly withdraw troops from the battlefield as part of the efforts to retrench and shrink resources dedicated to counter terrorism. In his early days into the presidency, Trump made attempts to ban Muslim citizens from certain countries from entering into the US, among other radical measures. In addition, he made some outright radical remarks against Congressman Cummings who was an African-American Democrat and other four Democrat Congresswomen of minority groups. So much so that, the New York Times portrayed Trump’s behaviors as bringing back undisguised racism back to the White House and the House passed a resolution that officially condemned Trump’s language as racist.
Trump’s behaviors represented a stark departure from the fine political tradition in the US, and constituted a serious erosion of the diverse social fabric that underpins tolerance. What’s worse, it invokes or reinvigorates racism and hatred that divides the society. On the surface, President Trump brags about his achievement in leading the counter terrorism war and measures taken, but in the meanwhile, racism hatred and anti-Semitism and gun violence are rising. American Jewish Committee (AJC) released a survey showing that 88% of Jewish Americans view anti-Semitism as an issue and 84% respondents perceive rising anti-Semitism in the US.
In a nutshell, killing Baghdadi may well be harnessed as a political leverage in the 2020 election, but it could not conceal the fact that racist hatred and terrorist activities are on the rise. The anti terrorism policy as such would only end up eroding the modest progress made so far, and even pushing the US as a country into an unprecedented security predicament.
The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).