The Islamic State wanted the West to fear refugees and Muslims. It worked.
“At the same time, groups like the Islamic State seek to win over Muslims not only with violence, but also with propaganda that calls for a Holy War that pits an Islamic caliphate against a Christian West. As WorldViews’ Ishaan Tharoor has noted, this rhetoric has clear similarities with that used by some key Trump supporters. For example, Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, once spoke of the “long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam.
Western sympathy and support for refugees from the Muslim world clearly undercuts this idea of a clash of civilizations. The Islamic State knows this. At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, the group’s propaganda outfits put out a variety of desperate-seeming messages questioning why Muslims would flee from their caliphate. Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, catalogued some of these messages, if you want to read.
“Would You Exchange What Is Better for What Is Less?” is the title of one video directed at Muslim refugees.
In response to this problem, the Islamic State has made clear efforts to disrupt any Western embrace of refugees. It has taken advantage of migrant routes to Europe to transport fighters back to Europe. On a practical level, the tactic helps supporters evade security operations, but it also works on a symbolic level by sowing suspicion about refugees on the continent. At the same time, they have urged their followers in the West to commit violence, with the aim of eliminating the “gray zone” of tolerance and pluralism that still existed in many countries.
By refusing to allow Syrian refugees into the country and restricting access to others from Muslim-majority nations, Trump’s draft executive order would help eliminate the common ground to be found with Muslims. Ominously, the Islamic State predicted this in a 2015 essay in propaganda magazine Dabiq, claiming that attacks in the West would compel “the crusaders to actively destroy the gray zone themselves.””