Trump's victory could intensify global Muslim extremism, terror experts warn

Trump win could fuel global Muslim extremism

Donald Trump's shock election victory has enraged Muslim militant groups around the world, and may fan the flames of global terrorism.

The Republican's aggressive anti-Muslim rhetoric, which has included proposing an outright ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and a wish for all Muslims to register in a national database, has provided ample fodder for Islamist extremists. On Wednesday, several groups declared Trump's win was proof of a U.S. war on Islam, counterterrorism research group SITE Intelligence flagged in a post on its website.

Jihadists used social media to warn that having Trump in the White House would unite the mujahideen, SITE director Rita Katz tweeted, with supporters of Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS) saying the billionaire's election exposed America's hatred of Muslims and would contribute to America's downfall.

Southeast Asia may be at particular risk from Trump's inflammatory comments.

Indonesia and Malaysia are not only home to the world's largest Muslim-majority populations—each also has local militant networks that sympathize with IS' agenda, so a Trump administration could intensify the efforts of those groups.

Protestors gather outside Trump Tower in New York during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump on November 9, 2016.
Mohammed Elshamy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"They [terror organizations] are good at taking events from one side of the world and using that to incite passion on the other side, which may play out in Indonesia and Malaysia." explained Greg Barton, chair in global Islamic politics at Australia's Deakin University. "There's a real danger we'll see right-wing bigots in the U.S. seize the chance to do nasty things, which will be picked up by jihadi propaganda as evidence that the West is at war with the Muslim world."

In his congratulatory message to the tycoon, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he hoped Washington would continue to work with Jakarta to "build peace and prosperity for the world." But in June, the country's Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Reuters that his government was "not happy with Trump's opinions" and warned that religious discrimination in the U.S. could prompt retaliatory policies from other countries.

"Trump's continued anti-Muslim rhetoric will definitely feed into the already deep-seated distrust of the West by the Muslim conservatives in the region. Depending on his policies in the Middle-East, it will drive even more radicalization and terrorism activities," Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, a Malaysia-focused analyst at BowerGroupAsia, warned.

But some believed the expectation of violence as a result of Trump's victory alone was unrealistic.

Terrorist groups operate on a range of ideologies, which include not just anti-Western beliefs but also anti-democracy and anti-government views, Jacinta Carroll, head of the counterterrorism policy center at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said. "These positions are already held as part of the central tenets of these groups and are unlikely to be affected by statements made by President-Elect Trump."

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Still, networks were likely to continue to use selected statements from the billionaire as a means to provide inspiration and justification for their cause, just as they selectively quoted from religious leaders, she continued.

On the bright side

Many were careful to note that Trump's anti-Muslim talk on the campaign trail may not necessarily turn into action once he enters office.

"Now that the election season is over, I expect Trump to return to the center...Despite his previous comments, Trump and his team knows that he needs to show that he is a president for all Americans and not a certain segment. Now that he is president, it is no longer about slogans but geopolitical realities," BowerGroupAsia's Sani explained.

Indeed, many have pointed out that because global forecasting on Trump's chances of victory were wrong, the world must be cautious in predicting his policies going forward.

Reports already emerged late on Wednesday that references to a ban on Muslims were removed from the president-elect's website, a move that could suggest a toned-down outlook.

That would lend credence to the views of many political pundits, who have long warned that Trump's controversial views were merely a public-relations stunt and that he would pursue more moderate policies once taking office.

"It is highly unlikely that Trump will continue to make the kind of statements he had previously made on Muslims, now that he is approaching office and responsibility to govern for all Americans," said Carroll.

But it may be too late for a moderate stance on Islam from America's new president, because Trump effectively "let the genie out of the bottle" during his campaign, suggested Barton.

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