Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Islamic State And The Empathy Gap – OpEd


“Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in Sharia they should be deported,” Newt Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity after the Nice attack.

This is idiotic and yet there’s no doubt millions of Americans support this kind of ostensibly tough approach to “the Muslim threat.”

But as Jeffrey Goldberg correctly notes: “ISIS seeks to convince devout Muslims that there is no place for them in the West. Suggestions like Gingrich’s reinforce this core ISIS message.”

Goldberg goes on to observe:

There is much to critique in Gingrich’s approach, but I was struck in particular by his statement that “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization.” One of the Middle East countries that officially endorses sharia as a legal system is one of Gingrich’s most favored countries, Israel, which is, by his lights — and mine — a crucial component of Western civilization. Israel’s sharia courts, which are supervised by the Ministry of Justice, allow the more than 15 percent of Israel’s population that is Muslim to seek religious recourse for their personal dilemmas. These courts have been in operation since Israel’s founding, and yet the country does not seem to have been fatally undermined by their existence.

Americans are famously naive, but anyone who’s been through the immigration process will be aware that the system for establishing who is entitled to become a resident or citizen includes a series of bizarre questions.

For instance, the U.S. government asks each prospective permanent resident whether they intend to engage in espionage. Seriously — everyone gets asked that! Did anyone ever answer “yes”?

Setting aside this baseless notion that belief in Sharia can serve as a litmus test for extremism, why is it that Gingrich imagines that the people he wants to exclude from this country are going to offer an honest account of themselves?

The effect of Gingrich’s comments and those being made by Donald Trump is not to improve security; they merely amplify the Islamophobic hysteria that runs rampant in many parts of America.

The more that fear of Muslims gets ramped up, the more this empowers ISIS and other extremists who assert that the West is at war with Islam.

When Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was questioned yesterday by French police before he went on his deadly rampage, I’m sure they didn’t ask him whether he believed in Sharia — or whether he was planning to carry out an act of terrorism. They wanted to know what he was doing with his truck and he said he was delivering ice cream. He was a resident of Nice and clearly, nothing about his behavior or appearance made him seem out of place.

It turns out to be tragic that the police didn’t ask to see the contents of his truck where they would have found weapons, yet they should not be faulted for failing to apply some kind of cockeyed terrorist screening process.

This is what we now know about the man described by his own cousin as an “unlikely jihadist“:

The 31-year-old – who wreaked terror on the Nice seafront as he turned an evening celebrating Bastille Day into a night of terror in which he murdered 84 innocent people – drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs.

He never prayed or attended a mosque, and hit his wife – with whom he had three children – and was in the process of getting a divorce.

Bouhlel, who had been known to the French police since January, had been on the radar for six months for petty criminality.

It is understood he lost his job as a delivery driver when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into four cars.

Just as the Trump camp is helping boost terrorism with its intemperate rhetoric, each time there is a mass killing in the West that gets tied to Muslims, Donald Trump’s chances of reaching the White House improve.

After the Nice attack, Trump asked: “When will we learn?

This is a fake rhetorical question — his insinuation is that the way forward will be clear once we’re living under the leadership of President Trump.

George Monbiot asks a more relevant question:

Each time there is a ghastly headline-grabbing act of violence, there is a genuine need to understand what happened and most importantly, to understand the mindset of the killer(s).

What we can surmise already is that Bouhlel lacked a shred of empathy for the people whose lives he tore apart.

This was an act of brutality that required even more callousness than that shown by a suicide bomber whose own demise is simultaneous with that of his victims. The Nice killer was both the perpetrator of and witness to his own murderous instincts as he destroyed life after life.

Did the windshield of his truck construct some kind of psychological separation as though he was witnessing a parade of death displayed on a screen? Did this enable some macabre blending of fiction and reality?

In his inhumanity we see evidence of someone who, for reasons we may never clearly know, had lost the capacity to value the humanity of others. There is an arc of dehumanization that ties the killer to his victims.

When politicians are quick to make declarations of war in the wake of each new atrocity, rather than showing genuine empathy for the victims, they are more like vultures swooping down to grasp some political advantage.

The bluntest display of this came on 9/11 when Benjamin Netanyahu said the attacks were a “good thing.”

These days the grim celebrations are more circumspect, always preceded by some perfunctory expressions of sympathy.

The actual human loses, however, are permanent. The war cries bring back no lives. They provide no real consolation.

Terrorism as hideous as it is, is just the most extreme form of an affliction that really does span the whole world.

In the terrorist we see the death of empathy, but elsewhere and to much greater ill effect we see an empathy deficit.

Healing the world requires closing that deficit — not an endless war that counterproductively widens the empathy gap.

Paul Woodward - War in Context

Paul Woodward describes himself by nature if not profession, as a bricoleur. A dictionary of obscure words defines a bricoleur as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Woodward has at various times been an editor, designer, software knowledge architect, and Buddhist monk, while living in England, France, India, and for the last twenty years the United States. He currently lives frugally in the Southern Appalachians with his wife, Monica, two cats and a dog Woodward maintains the popular website/blog, War in Context (, which "from its inception, has been an effort to apply critical intelligence in an arena where political judgment has repeatedly been twisted by blind emotions. It presupposes that a world out of balance will inevitably be a world in conflict."

One thought on “Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Islamic State And The Empathy Gap – OpEd

  • July 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

    I think Newt was right. And we do need to make sure of the Muslims here. They need to abide to the constitution of the United States. There should be a test of there loyalty for then ti stay. I think also we need to go in every moss and check and see if there is any recruitment going on. It doesn’t mean that we are Islamophob. It means we need to make sure that the American people are safe from the violence like in France and else where.


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