Al Qaeda has long held that the West is locked in a civilizational war with Islam. The terror group has now found a prominent Westerner who agrees with them: Steve Bannon, top adviser to US president Donald Trump.
Bannon maintains that the West is in a “global existential war” against “Islamic fascism”—a fact that Al Qaeda-affiliated newspaper Al Masra trumpets on the front page of its latest issue. The story on Bannon runs above the fold, accompanied by a photo of the former Breitbart chief looking pensive, in big black glasses.
The article claims that Bannon wants armed struggle—that he believes that “the forces of Islam cannot be stopped by peaceful means,” citing a conversation a Danish journalist says he had with Bannon in May 2016 (likely referring to this article). Before becoming advisor to the president, Bannon did refer to conflict with Islam, telling an audience at the Vatican via Skype in 2014: “We’re now, I believe at the beginning stages of global war against Islamic fascism.”
The Bannon article’s prominence in Al Masra is “striking,” says Elisabeth Kendall, a senior research fellow of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Oxford.
“The fact that [Al Masra] would put this so prominently on the front page—as lead article—indicates it has traction, that this is a way to win support. It plays entirely into their narrative that they were right about the West’s war on Islam all along,” Kendall says.
“It shows us is how much Al Qaeda is trying to capitalize on some of the policies of the Trump administration,” she adds.
In addition to his past rhetoric on Islam, recent executive actions co-authored by Bannon emphasize the notion that Muslims pose a danger to Americans. Many national security experts fear that this posture risks lending credibility to Al Qaeda and ISIL.
The Al Masra article also holds that Bannon sees a war not merely between the West and Islam; but more specifically, between Christianity and Islam, notes Kendall. For example, the story says that Bannon has lost confidence in secular Europe, and sees Muslim immigrants as partially responsible for the retreat of traditional Christian values, which are considered foundational to Western civilization.
Both Trump and US president Barack Obama have had cameos in the broadsheet before, occasionally on the front page. However, this is the first time Bannon has graced the pages of Al Masra, which presents itself as an independent source of global news geared toward ordinary Arab readers. Appearing online and in print, the paper also rounds up the activities of Al Qaeda affiliates around the world. For instance, the two articles beneath Bannon’s big feature describe two attacks by Al Qaeda and its confederates in Somalia and Syria.
Additional reporting by Aamna Mohdin