The Challenges Trump Will Face In Confronting Radical Islam : Parallels President-elect Donald Trump has promised to make war on "radical Islam." It could mean a major — and risky — escalation of the counterterrorism policies favored by his White House predecessors.

The Challenges Trump Will Face In Confronting Radical Islam

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Donald Trump has said that the number-one threat facing the United States is the following.


DONALD TRUMP: Radical Islamic terrorism.

MARTIN: Most experts say counterterrorism policy shouldn't target the religion of Islam itself, but Trump is promising an especially sweeping approach to the terrorist threat. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: One of Trump's criticisms of President Obama and of Hillary Clinton was that they seemed reluctant to use the words radical Islam. It was not just semantics. Trump said it's important to name the enemy idea and then attack it. Consider the Cold War. The U.S. and its allies waged a kind of propaganda war against the communist idea using radio broadcasts and other tools. Trump has said he'd do the same against Islamic extremism.


TRUMP: Just as we won the Cold War in part by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so, too, must we take on the ideology of radical Islam.

GJELTEN: But making the argument against communism is one thing. Taking on a religion - even one interpretation of it - is something else. Trump hasn't had much to say since the election about fighting radical Islam, but his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, promotes ideological war on radical Islam in a new book he wrote with Michael Ledeen. In an interview, Ledeen offered this example - George W. Bush should have mentioned Allah back when the U.S. defeated al-Qaida in Iraq.


MICHAEL LEDEEN: I said Bush should stand up and say, OK, you've been saying all these years that your success demonstrates that Allah supports you, and that is what is responsible for your victories. So what happened here, exactly? Did he change sides? Is he now on our side? Because you've lost.

GJELTEN: The point, Ledeen says, is to challenge Muslim extremists on their religious convictions. But then what?

SHADI HAMID: If we go in and tell Muslims that they are interpreting their religion in the wrong way, the response is obviously going to be, who the heck are you to tell us that?

GJELTEN: Shadi Hamid's new book is "Islamic Exceptionalism." As a Muslim, he acknowledges that Islam is interpreted in especially political ways, but he wonders what can be gained by Donald Trump challenging Islamist ideology.

HAMID: Trump and the people around him are seen in a lot of the Muslim world now as being anti-Muslim. So already people are very suspicious of what the Trump administration has to offer.

GJELTEN: Trump has called for extreme vetting of Muslim immigrants. He'd also use military force in going after terrorists. His choice to lead the CIA, Congressman Mike Pompeo, said last year that the key line is between Muslims who accept modernity and those who are barbarians. We should never be fearful to walk right up to that line, he said, find those on the other side and crush them.

But Will McCants of the Brookings Institution says the U.S. government already attacks groups that target the U.S. As the director of a project on relations with the Islamic world, he asks whether it makes sense to draw the line with violent groups that don't target the U.S.

WILL MCCANTS: Even a step further, are we worried about anybody who advocates for radical social and political change, regardless of whether they use violence or not? If we draw the circle that widely, we end up provoking a number of people to come after us in a way that they would not otherwise.

GJELTEN: Clearly the United States faces a tough adversary with Muslim terrorists. Countering them has been a challenge to the Obama administration, and so it will surely be for the Trump administration. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.