President Donald Trump used his inaugural address to call for the “civilized world” to unite “against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” It received one of the most enthusiastic responses from the crowd in attendance at the National Mall.
The words evoked memory of President George W. Bush and his administration. After the September 11th attacks, Bush referred to the “war on terrorism” as a “crusade.” It suggested the Bush administration meant to fight terrorism as a kind of holy war against Muslims.
Trump did not use the word “crusade,” but there was a distinct Christian theocratic theme to his gung ho declaration to “reinforce old alliances and form new ones” in the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other,” Trump said.
Immediately after pining for a newfound commitment to war, he added, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.'”
“We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear – we are protected, and we will always be protected.”
“We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.”
This is a call for Holy War, a sanctioning of war and further bloodshed by insisting any violence by Americans is endorsed by God.
Following Bush’s “crusade” remark, James Carroll wrote for The Nation in 2004 about the Catholic pope during the days of the Crusades. The pope sought to overcome “century-long dislocations of a post-millennial Christendon. He called for holy war. The Muslims were infidels because they took the Holy Land.
“Now, that occupation was defined as an intolerable blasphemy,” Carroll declared. “The Holy Land must be redeemed. Within months of the pope’s call, 100,000 people had ‘taken the cross’ to reclaim the Holy Land for Christ. As a proportion of the population of Europe, a comparable movement today would involve more than a million people, dropping everything to go to war.”
Carroll continued, “In the name of Jesus, and certain of God’s blessing, crusaders launched what might be called ‘shock and awe’ attacks everywhere they went. In Jerusalem, they savagely slaughtered Muslims and Jews alike–practically the whole city.”
Blood lust left quite a violent trail, and as Carroll argued, the religious invasions and wars of the Crusades “established a cohesive Western identity precisely in opposition to Islam, an opposition that survives to this day.”
Trump, particularly bolstered by the Christian fundamentalist forces led by Vice President Mike Pence, aims to make this Western identity a central part of the “war on terrorism,” and this time officials will be less sensitive to criticism around whether it is appropriate to use words that suggest America is waging holy war.
Bush covertly, and sometime rather overtly, embraced the clash of civilizations. President Barack Obama did not. He never called upon this Western identity to unify citizens. When he addressed terrorism in his second inaugural address, he spoke about the possibility of ending perpetual war. “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law,” he said. In contrast, Trump told Americans the government will not hesitate to kill radical Muslims because God is on America’s side.
The project of maintaining hegemony or American dominance in the world continued vigorously under Obama. That involved the deaths of millions of civilians in the Middle East. The United States dropped 26,171 bombs on seven countries, which are predominately Muslim, in 2016. Using predator drones, thousands of alleged militants or terrorism suspects were killed in these countries, however, Obama backed away from torture, even though he didn’t prosecute any former Bush administration officials for torture.
Casting the permanent war against “radical Islam” as one backed by a Christian God is a frame that can be used to campaign for the restoration of torture techniques. It is an invitation to dehumanize the “enemy” and commit all types of violence; not just for the good of America but also because a moral and Christian act of defense against those who threaten “civilization” requires it.
Definitely, this is the kind of rhetoric that, as used by officials, will incite white Americans to follow their prejudice and act out violently toward any brown-skinned citizens they perceive as threats.
The Islamic State and other extremist militia groups will be pleased to have Trump deploying this rhetoric. If Trump and Pence give them the new phase of war he pledged at his inaugural, the ranks of radical Islamic warriors will swell. They will not back down from U.S. forces “protected by God.” Countries will see even worse destruction from marauders and foreign military occupations. There will be a steep escalation in carnage.