Berlin police have yet to even put their hands on the right suspect after a truck plowed into a Christmas market, leaving 12 people dead.
But Donald Trump has no doubts about what happened.
Just three hours after Monday’s apparent attack, the U.S. president-elect branded it the latest outrage in a global religious war.
His language was a dramatic departure from how Western leaders generally respond to Islamist extremism but reflected the tone of his campaign.
“Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday,” he declared in a statement from his office. “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”
Trump made this case before German police released a Pakistani asylum seeker who had been arrested after the truck attack. And he spoke even before Amaq, a jihadi-linked news agency, claimed that the Islamic State group was behind the ramming of the market.
Trump resorted to similar language to condemn the murder, on the same day, of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey by a “radical Islamic terrorist.” That gunman shouted “Allahu akbar” and “don’t forget Aleppo” — a reference to the Syrian city where mostly Islamist rebels were defeated this month by government troops backed by Russia and Iran.
Trump’s decision to focus on the presumed religion of the attackers was a deliberately chosen contrast with the policy of outgoing President Barack Obama, who called Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday to offer his condolences on “the horrific apparent terrorist attack.”
Obama’s administration is fighting extremist groups like the Islamic State but is doing so under the banner of “countering violent extremism.”
He and his generals and diplomats praise the Muslim governments that have joined in the struggle and insist that the extremists do not represent a religion.
Secretary of State John Kerry has gone as far as to declare the Islamic State group “apostates” who have twisted the message of a great faith.
Trump, however, has a different set of advisers and apparent beliefs: Extremism can only be defeated if we identify it as springing from Islam itself.
During his campaign, he proposed a total ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, at least “until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”
His national security adviser, maverick former Gen. Michael Flynn, has argued that Islam is not even a religion but a “political ideology.”
“They have declared war against us,” Flynn said in August. “And our government does not allow us to talk about this enemy.”
“This is Islamism,” he said of the threat. “It is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet, and it has to be excised.
“We should not fear this idea. We should define it clearly and go after it,” he said, summarizing the argument of his book, “The Field of Fight.”
But Trump’s clash-of-civilizations narrative does not just stem from the advice of a former soldier who fought extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another of his closest advisers, incoming White House chief of strategy Steve Bannon, embodies a nationalist view with roots in hard-right ideology.
Bannon has taken a break from running Breitbart, a favorite news platform of the white nationalist “alt-right,” to work with Trump.
Breitbart’s home page was dominated Tuesday by the news from Germany, prominently featuring criticism of Merkel’s open door to Muslim refugees.
In 2014, Bannon addressed a conservative conference at the Vatican by video link in part to hail the “enlightened capitalism of the Judeo-Christian West.”
However, the West has in Bannon’s view lost its way a little since the fall of the Soviet Union and now faces a new bloodcurdling threat.
“We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks published by Buzzfeed News.
“And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it,” he warned.
Trump’s victory will bring this worldview to the White House, but Bannon does not want to stop there — in his view a “global tea party movement” is afoot.
In his Vatican remarks he said populist right-wing parties like France’s National Front would shed the “baggage” of their association with racism.
Groups like the Front and the U.K. Independence Party will supplant center-right conservatives, he said.
Two years later, Trump controls the U.S. Republican Party and soon the White House, and Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD is blaming the attack on Merkel.
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