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The June 12 mass killing in Orlando was the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. A shooter's rampage through a packed gay nightclub left dozens of people dead and many more wounded. The gunman swore allegiance to ISIS, and shortly after the shootings, ISIS claimed responsibility for the terror.

How can we achieve our goals of making us safer from such mass acts of terror and get revenge on ISIS by preventing it from getting what it wants?

Donald Trump repeated his call for banning all Muslims from entering the country, although this would not have done anything to address the shooter, who was a U.S.-born American citizen. Trump also called for Barack Obama to resign the presidency because Obama refused to blame "radical Islam" for the terror.

By contrast, Obama stated "In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another," adding, "We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us." Hillary Clinton reacted in a similar fashion.

These two perspectives represent radically different responses to addressing this situation. Which of these is preferable for ISIS and which is most likely to make us safer from terrorism?

We know that ISIS wants to achieve the radicalization of American Muslims. Radicalizing Muslims in the U.S. and other nations has become a central aspect of the Islamic State's terroristic operations abroad over the last years: encouraging people to pledge allegiance to ISIS and then kill in its name.

Of course, killing is only the extreme edge of radicalization. Somewhat less radicalized people will simply support ISIS--sending it money, hiding potential terrorists, or just looking the other way when they notice suspicious activities. The more radicalized Muslims there are, the better the situation for ISIS, and the more dangerous for us.

Whose statements and policies would make Muslims grow more radicalized, those of Obama or Trump?

The answer is easy. Trump's suggestions that the president should resign and that Hillary should drop out of the race for failing to use the term "radical Islam" are perfect fodder for the kind of propaganda that ISIS uses to create more terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. is another great tool in the ISIS campaign to radicalize the millions of Muslims in the U.S. If enacted, such a policy would be much more likely to create more radical Muslims in the U.S. than it prevents from entering the country.

By contrast, Obama's statement appeals to mutual love and unity. By speaking of all Americans loving each other, he makes Muslims feel included. Doing so decreases the sense of marginalization, alienation, and isolation, which are the key forces leading to radicalization.

Now, does this mean we should do nothing? No! Instead, we should not act immediately! We need to go against our intuitive emotional self's desire for immediate action; we need to step back and assess the situation intentionally.

Recent research shows that after any emotionally powerful event, our brains tend to assign too much weight to that event compared to what is really important to us, a thinking error called attentional bias. To fight this thinking error, we should consider what are our actual long-term goals and how to get to them in the best possible manner.

To make ourselves more safe, and take revenge for the shooting spree, we should prevent ISIS from getting what it wants--increased radicalization of American Muslims. To target the already-radicalized Muslims, we should take quiet and covert actions that would avoid radicalizing others. This means doubling down on the efforts of law enforcement agencies while also reaching out to the Muslim leaders in our communities to work together against the radicals.

At the same time, we need to employ probabilistic thinking to recognize that sometimes terrorist acts will happen. It's important to accept that our security will never be perfect. The only question that we can honestly ask is whether one set of policies will increase our security over another set of policies.

Radicalizing Muslims is a sure-fire way to have less security and give a wonderful gift to ISIS. Instead, let's take the best form of revenge on ISIS by ensuring we prevent it from getting what it wants and make ourselves safer!


Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is a tenure-track professor at Ohio State-Newark, and runs a nonprofit that helps people reach their goals using science, Intentional Insights. He is currently living in Little Rock on a year-long research fellowship.

Editorial on 06/27/2016

Print Headline: Best path forward


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Archived Comments

  • 23cal
    June 27, 2016 at 7:30 a.m.

    Intelligent article. The eternally aggressive, hostile, and xenophobic anti-Islam right wing won't like this one.

  • RobertBolt
    June 27, 2016 at 7:43 a.m.

    This article is correct. Some Christians and Muslims want a religious war. Our President wisely keeps the focus secular, thereby depriving religious fundamentalists on both sides of a powerful tool for radicalization.

    June 27, 2016 at 10:15 a.m.

    I applaud the editors for running this column.

  • WGT
    June 27, 2016 at 7:29 p.m.

    Bravo! Thank you Dr. Tsipursky. Excellent job.

  • mrcharles
    June 28, 2016 at 10:31 a.m.

    REmember the great and powerful "W", and his man behind the curtain Dick dick Cheney. They said you are either for or against us, and then took the good will we had and taught the powerful Iraq army a lesson [ Yes they were tougher than the commies in Granada] After mission accomplished [ wasn't W presidential on that aircraft carrier, using the blood and sweat of our troops to be political & score political points for his legions of lemmings?] to really disrupt the region and to birth ISIS.

    To give W credit he did , even after the 9/11 tragedy and his Operation Ignore dogma, he did speak highly of the Muslim religion & its contribution to civilization/peace/religions of the world- but of course Obama who killed dont think about ben laden anymore & droned to martyrdom many bad zealots is the muslim -- Special kind of stupid award for those ILKS.

    I would submit for consideration , that About every organization in the world has agreed to a solution to the Israeli/Palestine issue/question/solution , but it will never happen as the Armies of G-d will never let it happen, and of course the right wing Christians want to keep stirring the pot to bring back Mary's son when all "THE JEWS" bend the knee we can have all that LSD hallucinations stuff happen. So these 3 great religions [ not my words] will continue to make other infidel Adults expire , and their children expire, over sand, deserts, caves, sacred mountains, bones and other holy places that they have no idea where they are but only know they are holy .

    Good column I agree, helps to balance out ADG agenda to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin by using magic incantations and magic words.

    I wait like a believer waiting for Mary's son, wait for the right wingers to pronounce like a demented parrot, BS mountain stuff straight from the RNC talking points mantra.

    Oh Benghazi!