Panicked Responses to Terrorism Helps Feed It

ISIS wants our invasion and rejection of Muslims


Credit: Paulus Rusyanto |

Fear may be an unpleasant emotion, but lots of people go to considerable time and expense to seek it out. That's why there will always be a market for horror movies and roller coasters. It's also why many people prefer leaders who impersonate howler monkeys to those who insist on remaining calm. 

The two basic options have been on display this week—first in President Barack Obama's Oval Office address on Sunday and then in Donald Trump's call for barring entry to all foreign Muslims on Monday. Trump thinks that if you're not terrified, you're not paying attention. Obama puts an emphasis on avoiding a dangerous overreaction at home or abroad. 

The president is not exactly winning the argument. A CNN/ORC poll taken before his speech found that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of how he's addressed the terrorist threat, with only 38 percent approving. A majority now favors sending ground troops to fight the Islamic State. 

His Republican detractors demand to know why his hair is not on fire. "People are really scared and worried," said Marco Rubio, who accused the president of showing insufficient emotion and downplaying the danger. 

Trump, who cannot be accused of such sins, is riding a wave of support taller than anyone could have anticipated a few months ago. The latest CNN/ORC polls, taken before he urged a ban on Muslim arrivals, have him leading the Republican race nationally and in Iowa. 

His closest competition is Ted Cruz, whose rhetoric on terrorism and Islam is only slightly less feverish. On Monday, Cruz said he doesn't think Trump's plan would be the "right solution" but couldn't resist lavishing praise: "I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America's attention on the need to secure our borders." 

Others took issue with Trump, but only for taking the fear-mongering slightly too far. The general view was that Obama needs to pump up the volume. Jeb Bush said the Oval Office address was "weak." George Pataki likened the speech to "a hostage video." Even some Democrats grouse that he doesn't convey the appropriate passion. 

The central criticism is that Obama is not sufficiently frightened by the people trying to terrorize us. But acting rashly out of panic and dread is exactly what the enemy wants us to do. The president plainly believes the dangers of sober circumspection are far less than the risks of coming unglued. 

Obama, it's true, has not found the magic formula to make the Islamic State disappear in a puff of smoke, but neither have his critics. Some remedies are ludicrous: Cruz said he would "direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS." Others are reckless: Lindsey Graham called for doubling the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and invading Syria. 

Given a choice of unpromising responses to the Islamic State, there is something to be said for discarding the one that involves getting American soldiers and Marines killed in an open-ended war in a place we don't understand. That course of action would actually be a boon to the enemy. 

"The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself," wrote journalist Graeme Wood in The Atlantic. "An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya'a (allegiance) to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment." 

Rejecting people who are fleeing from Syria or treating all Muslims as likely terrorists likewise would help the enemy's attempt to portray us as hateful infidels persecuting Islam. By accepting refugees and defending the rights of Muslims, Obama contradicts this narrative. 

He also guards against the mistakes Americans have made in the past during periods of crisis. Trump compared his own plan to Franklin Roosevelt's decision to intern Japanese-Americans and their children during World War II. "This is a president who was highly respected by all; he did the same thing," said Trump. 

It's a fair analogy, but not a gleaming badge of honor. In 1983, a congressional commission recommended an official apology for the internment, which it ascribed not to an authentic threat but to "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership." 

Maybe we learned our lesson from that unwarranted lapse into panic. Trump, however, is not the only candidate betting that we didn't.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: The Phony Mystery of Why 'They' Hate Us

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Obama, it’s true, has not found the magic formula to make the Islamic State disappear in a puff of smoke…

    But he thinks he’s found one to make law abiding Americans’ guns disappear in a puff of smoke, riding panic to confiscation victory.

    1. Yeah, it’s not so much that Obama is the calm voice of reason while Trump et al are pants shitting fearmongers, as Chapman seems to think. It’s just that Obama wants to direct that fear inward and use it to push for more “common sense” gun control. It’s pants shitting all the way down.

      1. I don’t think Mr. O cares much about gun control, but he’s got a certain constituency he’s got to throw a bone, or I should say a dog biscuit to, now and again. Just so, as The Fear has become a national pastime, he is trying to balance the demands of rationality with the public desire for yet another exercise of hysteria and violence. He could probably put on a better act in both cases, but unfortunately he didn’t go to drama school.

    2. Steve Chapman says: “But acting rashly out of panic and dread is exactly what the enemy wants us to do.”

      Who gives a fuck what the enemy wants one way or the other? I don’t care if our actions raises the enemy’s recruiting. I don’t care if our reactions help feed their jihad. I don’t give a shit one way or the other what they think.

      I only want to kill every last fucking one of them!

      Are the writer’s at Reason ordered to write a certain quota of articles trashing Trump every month? Because that is the way it appears. The hilarious results are Trump’s continued rise in the polls ha, ha. Keep up the good work. Your incompetence is fueling Trump’s campaign.

      1. The argument that anything resembling a strong response to the barbarians is a “recruiting tool” is the most ridiculous piece of rhetoric I have ever heard.
        Showing weakness is the best recruiting tool there is, because the recruits come in thinking they are on the winning side.
        Meanwhile 0blama thinks our best response is to attend a global warming conference. Really?
        The best deterrent is the idea that a new adherent to the fight, except for the ones willing to die for the cause, will face almost sure death. Those who want to sacrifice themselves can be, easily, accommodated.
        We are the biggest, baddest boy on the block but we are cowering in the corner while a bunch of 7th century barbarians run rough-shod over the planet.
        The Americans, who are fed up with the namby-pamby response, aren’t so much afraid as angry that we are made to look like a bunch of pussies.
        P.S. Ask a soldier, sailor, Marine or airman, they will tell you: they know what their role in our society is and they are willing, and able to take the fight to the savages door, despite the danger. To think otherwise of them is nothing but projection.

  2. What ISIS wants is a global caliphate. If I wanted a global caliphate, I’d want the least resistance to my goals, and certainly not much more powerful armies thwarting that goal. In fact, if I could have some crazed fans do some hits here and there in world, and have world leaders too terrified to anything about it, I’d be pleased as punch. My recruitment poster would say, “Join me…’cause nobody’s stopping me.”

    1. You would also want recruits.

      “Join me, or else the U.S. will kill you like they killed your brother” makes a much better recruitment poster.

      1. Only initially. Failing doesn’t help recruiting efforts.

        I just don’t understand the false dilemma between invasion with occupation and doing nothing.

        1. Just kill every ISIS member until there are no more. My guess is recruiting won’t go off so well after we kill half of them or so.

          1. Yep. ISIS is popular because it’s seen as SUCCESSFUL.

            If Raqqa and Dibiq are vaporized in a cloud of nuclear hellfire, I’d wager the recruiting numbers would fall quite precipitously thereafter.

            1. I think you are deluded by a false belief in American omnipotence. Nuclear weapons do not confer omnipotence. The situation is rather like trying to kill mosquitoes with a sledge-hammer.

              1. No. No, it’s not.

                1. Well, I think it is. Nuclear weapons are designed to damage a highly industrialized, centralized enemy. Using them against dispersed guerrilla fighters or terrorists is very much like swinging a sledge-hammer against mosquitoes: a huge amount of destruction, many unintended consequences, and continued mosquitoes.

                  1. ISIS is not Al Qaeda hiding in the caves of Tora Bora. They’re NOT a dispersed guerrilla army.

                    ISIS is a fucking STATE. It’s right there in the name. They hold and maintain territory, they have a standing army, a political hierarchy, a legal system including courts and a civil police force, and even provide social services like healthcare, electricity, and trash collection.

                    Their goal is not to simply exist and terrorize, their goal is to establish a caliphate — a nation — which is exactly what they’ve successfully begun to do.

                    People like you are the reason we’re not making any progress against them, because you’re treating them as though they’re just an extension of our conflict against Osama Bin Laden. The reality is that ISIS is indeed an aggressively growing nation, and must be fought as such.

      2. Jordan — Don’t forget the families. It’s always about the families. We have to kill every last family member! I guarantee the enemy’s recruitment numbers will plummet when Mohammed knows we’re taking out his mother, father and son. He doesn’t really give a shit about his other family members but I say we take them out for good measure. Think of it as practice.

  3. I will not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

    1. +100

      1. Sounds un-American to me. The Fear has replaced whining as our national pastime.

  4. The primary responsibility of our President is to defend the US Constitution from ALL enemies, foreign and domestic.

    An intelligent policy proposal would be wide ranging. While I cannot purport to have everything down, these would include:

    1. A thorough revision of our vetting process for all immigration visa (of all kinds including ‘fiance’ visas) seekers. These would include a ‘reliability’ score for information obtained from government sources of the originating country. Also a reliability score for US-based sponsors.

    2. Our borders have to be secured efficiently and absolutely. A nation that cannot secure its borders cannot reliably fulfill its primary responsibility: the security of its people. The open borders within the EU proved this in the French case.

    3. Radical Sunni Islamist ideology, which is a form of NAZISM bent on finds its sources in three groups within Islam: the Salafists, the Wahabbists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Members, and especially ‘imams’ (who can be self-proclaimed), should be BANNED from the US and its territories, just like Nazis are. Anyone supporting the overthrow of our Constitution through means not defined by that Constitution should be BANNED from entry or DEPORTED after due process.

  5. Also, it is up to the moderate Muslim community to aid US law enforcement to root out the radical Islamists in their midst. We don’t have thousands of officers to go through the community to find the radicals. What is CAIR doing to help?

    1. What is CAIR doing to help?

      Providing cover for the jihadis.

    2. We’ve been asking the “moderate” muslim community to do that since, at least, 9/11/01.
      How’s that worked out for us?
      Maybe these “moderate” muslims don’t believe in what we are asking them to do.
      I am sure there are some, but not enough to make a difference.
      The claims, that muslims intent on a sharia-run caliphate are the vast minority, may not be accurate.

  6. I don’t get the praise of Obama here. Obama is talking out of one side of his mouth when he tries to mediate the fear that Trump is using while at the same time trying to use and stoke that same fear to persecute an even larger and more unrelated group of people, gun owners. Obama is basically telling us not to let fear make us wary of people similar to those that attacked us, but go ahead and let that fear make us wary of people completely different from those that attacked us, revoke their rights, and steal their property. Because ass salt riffles are 2spooky4him.

    Trump basically co-opted Obama’s strategy to discriminate against gun owners and applied it to Muslims. Registration, harassment, exclusion, etc.

    Many states in the U.S., and the entire country if progs had their way, already have banned my entry if I want to bring an AR-15, at least not without being entered into a registry. My AR-15 has killed far fewer people than the ideology that Muslims bring with them.

    I do agree though that giving in to fear the way Trump wants, at least the Muslim registry idea, will probably fail to accomplish its goals, and would probably make the problems worse and at a cost of freedoms.

    1. Trump never said he wanted a registry of all muslims.
      He said, if we admit the Syrian refugees, they should be registered, and watched, so that any that infiltrated as terrorists could be found, quickly.
      Too many false claims about what Trump has advocated.
      The big-lie tactic is on full display with the Trumpophobes.

  7. I have a hard time thinking of Obama’s “signature strikes” with drones that kill people who may or may not have been possibly related to terrorism, and that likewise kill innocent people, as a calm, reasoned response that is not going to result in encouraging ISIS recruiting efforts.

    1. There is no way to kill these fuckers without collateral damage. That’s how war works.

  8. The ONLY appropriate response to moslem terrorist attacks on our soil is for citizens to keep calm and shoot back.. well aimed fire is the answer to these freaks.

    1. And hunt down their handlers and exterminate them all.

      1. That takes time and intelligence. The American people, in general, are impatient with both of these. Trained by their media, they want to wallow in fear, hysteria, and random general violence.

  9. Mr. Chapman’s mistaken assumption is that terrorists sit around waiting for Donald Trump to say something they can use to recruit more suicide bombers. Terrorists don’t rely on fact or evidence; what they say is believed because they are saying it, and the people who buy what they’re saying are engaged in a religious act–they accept on faith, not reason. Mr. Obama and Mr. Chapman both ought to understand faith over reason since they seem to be experts in that mode of thinking.

    1. Chapman and Obama both live in theoretical worlds where they are mostly coddled. I’m so fucking sick of clueless shit that passes for logic from people like this.

  10. Is the choice between begging fanatics not to kill us and blasting the Muslim world flat? If so I know which one I will choose.

  11. What a distorted bullshit article. If we don’t accept every Muslim that wants in ISIS wins? FFS that is some major fucking retardation there. The best way to discourage people from joining ISIs is to kill ISIS. Make it very clear that joining ISIs is a quick trip to an agonizing death.

  12. Yes, let in every Muslim who’s seeking entry to the US, no questions asked. That’ll teach ISIS a lesson!

  13. Why are people flocking to Trump? It’s not because they ‘fear’ ISIS. It’s because they are spoiling for a fight with them. ISIS is just a bunch of bullies and thugs. They are really pretty dumb and it will be lots of fun going there and smashing their brains out. You will not understand Trump’s appeal as long as you persist in the ‘fear and panic’ narrative. It’s exactly the same dynamic as the drug war. But otherwise you’re right, if we are bombing their country then we have a *moral obligation* to accept bonafide refugees. Anything else is un-American and despicable. (If people really were scared of ISIS they’d be begging not bashing the left. Frankly, they don’t care who the enemy is as long as they get to use the guns they just bought or are expecting from Santa. And yes, they are just as big bullies as ISIS, dropping bombs like there’s no tomorrow.)

    1. Why are people flocking to Trump? It’s not because they ‘fear’ ISIS. It’s because they are spoiling for a fight with them.


      Labeling Trump’s appeal as a ‘fear response’ is mostly a rhetorical smear tactic. Which’d be fine if that reflected the reality, but it just doesn’t.

      1. And the reason they’re spoiling for a fight is because for the last ten years we’ve been fed nothing but platitudes about the ‘religion of peace’ and a ‘tiny minority of muslims’ which have proven to be outright lies. Most people suspected they were lies from the beginning, but gave Islam ten years worth of the benefit of the doubt. And what do we have to show for it? Has any ‘moderate’ Islamic faction emerged to challenge their own ‘extremists’ head on? Nope, still the same platitudes from our leadership and the same politically-correct outrage and rationalizations from the Muslim community.

        People are sick of it, and Trump’s rhetoric is a panacea.

  14. So el Cid was wrong to fight the Muslims?


    And what is with the two buttons below the text box?

    islam and preview?

    What has happened to Reason?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.