By Brigitte L. Nacos
In 2004, a few days before Election Day, Osama bin Laden provided Al-Jazeera with a video tape in which he told Americans that President George W. “Bush’s hands are stained with the blood of all those killed from both sides, all for the sake of oil and keeping their private companies in business.” As for America’s future, he told American voters, “I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida. No. Your security is in your own hands.”
A few months after the election, President Bush told a reporter, “I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden does not want Bush to be president, something must be right with Bush.”
By attacking Bush, Bin Laden cleverly figured that American voters would vote in larger numbers for the sitting president—bin Laden’s enemy-in-chief and Al Qaeda’s major recruiting tool.
As for Senator John Kerry, he said soon after his defeat that he lost to President Bush because of the bin Laden video.
While nobody knows for sure what impact bin Laden’s propaganda had, there is no doubt that the Al Qaeda boss intended to influence the election results.
I mention this 2004 episode because I wonder whether ISIS leaders will try to influence the upcoming elections—and fear that they will.
Propagandists need to contrast their “we” against “them” messages. Just as bin Laden talked again and again about the clash of civilizations—Muslims against the Christian/Jewish Crusaders--, ISIS follows the same script as the following citation from the last issue of the organization’s online magazine Dabiq attests to:
“Indeed, it is Allah who prepared the Earth for the bloodiest battle before the Hour, to see His slaves sweat in spilling their blood and that of His enemies. All the factors were laid down precisely. The Crusaders and the Jews in the Levant, the Rafidah in Iraq and Persia, and the Caliphate in the center. It is the clash of encampments – “civilizations” – that many saw coming, as it is found in Allah’s signs throughout history and current events.”
In the same issue, ISIS warns that “the bloodthirsty knights of the Caliphate continue to wage their war of just terror against you.”
Donald Trump’s vilification of Muslims and the whole religion of Islam make him like a posterchild for ISIS’s clash of civilization saga. In this sense, he would be for ISIS propagandists the ideal “evil Crusader” if he would become U.S. president and leader of the West. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, does not fit their propaganda scheme as well.
That’s why I fear that ISIS could follow bin Laden’s 2004 example. In the worst case scenario not merely with rhetorical bombs.