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Friday, November 20, 2015

Refugees and Terrorism

Currently, it is quite fashionable for the Republican candidates for President to oppose letting refugees from Syria into the United States. Quite a few Republican governors feel the same way, and today the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill that will make it next to impossible for Iraqi and Syrian refugees to enter the United States. Amid reports that one of the terrorists involved in the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, their reasoning is understandable. It is based on the assumption that if we prevent Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States, we lower the probability that we will experience a terrorist attack.

Although their logic is understandable (and rational), I think it is flawed. Why? For the very simple reason that if al-Qaeda, ISIS, or some other terrorist organization wants to insert one of its operatives into the United States, they will. It will most likely be someone who is not on a terrorist-watch or no-fly list and possesses a legal passport. Someone, in other words, who the authorities would not consider a threat. This is not to suggest that groups such as ISIS will not take advantage of the refugee crisis if opportunities present themselves (e.g., it appears that the terrorist who coordinated the Paris bombing was from Belgium who had traveled to Syria and then snuck back into Europe by joining refugees pouring into Greece). Rather, it is to argue that even if higher restrictions on refugees are put in to place, it is unlikely to make the U.S. less vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

Perhaps more concerning is the effect that this bill and rhetoric will have on Muslim perception of the United States and the West. The last thing we need to do (if we're interested in stemming the tide of people joining ISIS) is to create the impression that we (i.e., those of us in the West) are hostile to people of the Islamic faith. Unfortunately, I can't help but think that remarks by Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz are doing just that. We can only hope that Muslims around the world realize that not all Americans and Western Europeans think like they do.

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