Trumped Up: Does GOP candidate's rhetoric help ISIS

December 9, 2015

The world remains abuzz this morning about Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The current frontrunner for the GOP nomination has shocked the political establishment and received nearly universal criticism from leaders around the world — even many in his own party — who fear that Trump’s rhetoric plays into the hands of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Donald Trump GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump. (Photo by: Michael Vadon - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

But his political base views the reality-show-star-turned-candidate as the only one speaking truth to power, no matter whether it fits a “politically correct” mold.

For insight and context, ASU Now turned to Professor Steven Corman, of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Strategic Communication and co-author of "Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism" as well as co-editor of "Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Strategic Communication to Combat Violent Extremism."

In 2005-06 Corman served on the Scientist Panel for the Strategic Operations Working Group at the U.S. Special Operations Command as an expert on terrorist networks and ideology.   

Question: Donald Trump is being accused of doing precisely what ISIS wants with proposals, such as mosque surveillance and a ban on Muslim visits to the U.S., that provoke internal conflict here and further ISIS’ message that the West is allied against Islam. Accurate?  

Answer: Yes. Daesh and other violent Islamist groups believe they will succeed by stoking conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. Mr. Trump’s proposal plays into this strategy.

Q: You said “Daesh” rather than “Islamic State.”  Why?

A: Because Daesh is neither Islamic, nor a state. Their communication strategy is to convince people they are both, and we shouldn’t help them.

Q: What is the effect on peaceful Muslims who otherwise might be helpful and help identify threats?

A: It sends a message that they are not considered trustworthy. Why would they cooperate with people who don’t trust them?

Q: Have policies designed to encourage the integration of Muslims into Western culture, such as France’s controversial headscarf ban or Canada’s ban of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, contributed to Muslims feeling ostracized?

A: In cases where Muslims are singled out for special treatment, yes. For example, some Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair, but as far as I know France does not ban this, or other religious sacraments such as wearing crucifixes.

Q: How can we frame today’s conversation about extremism so that it does not further the West vs. Islam narrative pushed by terrorists?

A: By discussing events in terms of violent extremism rather than Islam. Any religion can be misused to promote violence. 

Q: Conservatives criticize President Obama for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorist.” Why should he or shouldn’t he?

A: Where it is necessary to refer to violent extremists as a class, he should use Islamist terrorist or extremist because that refers to people with a political rather than a religious agenda. That said, it’s usually possible to just refer to a specific group like al Qaeda or Daesh, and that is preferable.

Urban planning graduate focuses on community

December 9, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

As he settled into life as a student at Arizona State University, Justin Peterson knew he wanted to connect with the community around him. Working at Escalante Community Garden and studying urban planning led him to the path he’s pursuing now — a career in which he can help shape a community with which he’s deeply involved. Justin Peterson at Escalante Community Garden Justin Peterson works at the garden in Tempe's Clark Park — a sister garden to Escalante Community Garden, where he's spent many hours and has taken a leadership role. Download Full Image

When Justin moved to Tempe to begin his studies at ASU, he found what he was looking for as a new high school graduate — a setting very different from where he’d grown up, a small community on the coast of Puget Sound in Washington State.

Growing up he admired his grandfather who, for as long as Justin remembered, had championed development of a trail system in the nearby town of Silverdale. The trails helped visitors and residents appreciate the coastal setting while at the same time helping to preserve it. 

Peterson spent many hours helping to post signs, pick up trash, trim vegetation and whatever else was needed to help maintain the trail.

As a college student in Tempe, Peterson pursued coursework that gave perspectives on this boots-on-the ground community building. He explored engineering, sustainability and business — and after 7 semesters, is graduating with minors in both sustainability and business, as well as a certificate in geographic information science (GIS). For his major, he chose urban planning. 

However, he knew he wanted to balance his academic work with the kind of involvement he’d had working on the trail system in Silverdale.

Justin Peterson

After 7 semesters, Justin will graduate with a major
in urban planning,minors in sustainability and
business, and a certificate in Geographic Information
Science (GIS).

He joined the Tempe Bicycle Coalition and helped with bicycle education and a city bike count, volunteered at the Mesa Healthy Communities Conference and participated in the Super Bowl Workshop. He attended community meetings in the neighborhood in which he lived, Escalante in Tempe.

Most importantly, he began volunteering at the Escalante Community Garden.

The garden is an urban sanctuary within walking distance of Peterson’s home. It’s maintained by volunteers and the food grown goes directly to the food pantry next door, which is run by the Tempe Community Action Agency (TCAA). 

“The TCAA is a center of the local community and has events on a weekly basis. The work of the agency helps the lives of local residents and provides services for those in need,” Peterson said. 

Peterson became a regular volunteer, working up to 3 days a week at planting, weeding and harvesting. As he became more knowledgeable, his responsibilities grew to distributing assignments to the other volunteers, and guiding them in where to do plantings.   

“The garden offers the community an opportunity to be outside and be involved,” Peterson said. “It’s a place where people gather, parents bring children and teachers bring students.”

The City of Tempe is currently engaged in developing long-range plans for subsections of the municipality called Character Areas. Peterson attended a community meeting for the Apache Character Area in which Escalante is located. Here he met city planners — which led to an internship beginning this fall, at the city’s Community Development office. 

“Working within the city government has given me an opportunity to see the dedication of the planners to creating Character Areas that reflect the community’s ideas,” Peterson said.

"Justin strikes me as the type of student who doesn’t just see planning as a career, but as a way to make a positive difference in urban communities,” said Jason Kelley, a lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and one of Peterson’s instructors. “He truly cares.”

As he prepares for graduation, with family arriving from Washington State, and the honor of being a Dean’s Medalist for the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Peterson looks ahead. He’s applying to several graduate programs in urban planning, and expects to start graduate studies next fall; the next step in his chosen career.

“I envision a career where I can listen deeply to peoples’ opinions and ideas, and put them into a plan,” Peterson said.

“I’d like a career where I help bring the community’s ideas to life.”

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning