Sunday night, with Paris still reeling from the worst attacks on French soil since the second world war, America’s governors began proclaiming that they would refuse to allow refugees fleeing the four-year Syrian civil war to be resettled in their states.
Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan (above) and Robert Bentley of Alabama came first. Texas governor Greg Abbott and Arkansas governor Asa Hutcheson hopped on the band-wagon. Indiana and Louisiana soon followed suit. And Massachusetts. At least 13 governors have rushed to slam America's doors to Syrian refugees, and more will likely join them.
“I — and millions of Americans — implore you to halt your plans to accept more Syrian refugees in the United States,” Gov. Abbott wrote in a letter addressed to President Obama. He went on to explain that “a Syrian ‘refugee’ appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack,” and added, “American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger.”
Protecting and defending their constituents is perhaps the most sacred responsibility of any elected official, so it’s no wonder the Syrian resettlement effort (which was never particularly ambitious to begin with, involving just 10,000 migrants compared to the 1.5 million Germany is expecting to admit), is running into trouble. After all, at least one of the suspects in the Paris terror attacks appears to have entered the country by way of Greece, using a forged passport to blend in with the flood of Syrian migrants who found themselves caught between the Assad regime and Daesh (as the Islamic State is known), not to mention the dizzying array of other rebel groups and global players.
An excess of caution is good policy. After all, Daesh would dearly love to follow up its Paris carnage with an attack on the United States, as the group proclaimed in a recent video. If we make it easy for them to enter the country amid a flood of beleaguered Syrian families, clearly they won’t hesitate to do so.
But the panic appears to be misplaced. For a number of reasons, U.S. security is considerably tougher to penetrate than that of the remarkably porous European Union. Obviously it makes sense to screen out would-be terrorists from groups of refugees, as we do for tourists, foreign workers and anyone else who wishes to enter the country, but a blanket ban on refugees isn't actually the answer. As Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute told the Economist, terrorists tend to avoid the bureaucratic hurdles thrown in their path by legal routes to resettlement. "Of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th," the Economist points out, "only two...have been arrested on terrorist charges." By contrast, many of the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks on Friday night were native born residents of France and other EU nations. It's been confirmed by European officials that the alleged mastermind is Belgian and that a suspected accomplice was born in Paris.
Meanwhile, the monsters of the Islamic State are likely high-fiving in the tea houses of Raqqa right now over American governors’ kneejerk impulse to reject refugees, and here's why: Inciting an anti-Muslim backlash based on fear and rage is exactly what these terrorists want. Millions of Syrian refugees willing to risk their lives on the open seas for a life among the infidels of American and Europe rather than live under the so-called Caliphate stood as the ultimate repudiation of the terrorists’ brand of radical Islam and their promise of an earthly utopia. After all, ISIS kills far more Muslims than it does Westerners; it's possible that Muslims despise ISIS more than the French or Americans do. But as the nations of the West now increasingly rush to bar the doors against the tide of desperate refugees, many will be forced back into the arms of the Islamic State. In this way, our governors have handed Daesh a potent recruitment tool. American’s don’t care if you live or die, they’ll say. Their lofty talk about human rights is empty rhetoric. They’d sooner let an innocent child perish in a war zone than welcome a Muslim...
The whole goal of terrorism — and the reason why it tends to work — is to induce rage and fear and instigate a backlash that will yield a brand new crop of terrorists. This isn't speculation: As Daesh itself made clear in a recent editorial in its online magazine, Dabiq, forcing Muslims to take a side — to adopt the extremist ideology of jihad or embrace the supposed decadence of the Western lifestyle — is precisely what they hope to achieve. The goal, as the Guardian reported, is to erase what the Islamic State calls "the grey zone" between the two.
Quoting Bin Laden [Dabiq's editorial] said: "The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists’, with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the western crusaders.” Now, it said, “the time had come for another event to … bring division to the world and destroy the grey zone”. The attacks in Paris were the latest installment of this strategy.
The impulsive approach to the refugee crisis by these governors will only serve this goal. And it's not just the closing the border to refugees that ISIS is banking on; according to Graeme Wood's remarkable analysis of the group in the Atlantic, "the biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself." The governor's impulse to reject refugees only strengthens their recruitment message without any actual gains for safety; in some ways, it actually makes us more unsafe in the long run.
It's not refugees we should worry about, but home-grown terrorists. You can be sure that among those who hear the Islamic State's message will be a few Texans, or Louisianans, or Arkansans, or Michiganers — native born Americans — who desperately want to believe that their neighbors in the U.S. actually do care about the fate of Muslims fleeing a brutal war but aren’t so sure anymore. How they feel about that fact may well have a bigger impact on our safety than we'd like to believe — and the message sent by these governors may only serve to send them into the open arms of the Islamic State.
Even in the best of times, that “American humanitarian compassion” Gov. Abbott mentioned only goes so far. When we’re in a panic about terrorism — and a panic is precisely what terrorism is designed to provoke — compassion goes right out the window, and sometimes common sense goes with it.
Photos by YouTube