At an even broader level, Islamic exceptionalism means questioning the conventional technocratic approach that sees problems both at home and abroad as products of material factors that can be addressed through targeted policy interventions. Things like poverty, underdevelopment, rural-urban migration, and so on all matter, but so do the things that can’t be measured.
Putting the context of [Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia] aside, the imagery is striking: Here is Donald Trump in the birthplace of Islam speaking to Muslim leaders from across the world, and the Koran is bring recited before he gives his address...That's at least somewhat positive in showing that he's going out of his way to address Muslim leaders in a way that's not overly antagonistic.
Up until now, Trump's message on Islam has been very confrontational, a clash-of-civilizations type narrative...For him to talk about the great faiths unified in a common civilization would be quite different.
We might hate what he [Trump] says, but there is a charisma that we have to acknowledge, and he taps into the...darker aspects of the human psyche. That's something that Arab autocrats or various Islamist groups have been doing for a long time.
I've been very uncomfortable with this idea of seeing Trump voters as this kind of problematic, deplorable mass, because in my work, I study Islamist movements, so I study people that I disagree with, I study people that we as Americans are uncomfortable with...I think it’s very important to us, even if we don’t like something, if we feel that it’s a threat to us, that we still have to go out of our way to understand [it].
...I think there's something else going on here, and it's that using this phrase, 'radical Islam,' has almost become a stand-in for anti-Muslim bigotry. Trump has invested these words with new meaning, regardless of what they may have meant four or five years ago. So in that sense, Trump is correct - words do matter, and we should be concerned that he's using these words as a kind of dog whistle that really feeds into anti-Muslim bigotry that is unfortunately becoming more prevalent in the U.S. ...
Ultimately, if you want to defeat terrorism you have to look at the long-term situation in the Middle East, which is the source of much of the terrorism. The fact that there hasn't been a long-term strategy that has been effective 15 years later is something that should scare us.