On Nov. 13th, 2015, ISIS terrorists attacked six different locations in downtown Paris, killing 129 and injuring another 352. This came just one day after much less noticed ISIS suicide bombings in Lebanon, which killed 43 and injured 239. The world was shocked by the violence. France and Belgium responded by conducting counter-terrorism raids, and the French also conducted airstrikes against ISIS-held locations. In America, President Obama said that “this is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share” and promised to “provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need to respond.”
The first bombing occurred at 3:20 pm EST. It wasn’t until shortly before 6 am EST the next morning that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. But before they even had a chance to do so, a number of American politicians used their psychic abilities to both predict who the culprits were and to subscribe policy solutions to the problem. It only took Republican congressman Jeff Duncan 73 minutes after the first attack to blame it on Syrian refugees.
Back in reality, refugees were not actually responsible for the Paris attacks. Of the known attackers, all but one were French or Belgian. The other was an unknown 25-year-old who possessed a fake Syrian passport and is believed to have come into Europe through Greece as a refugee. The mastermind of the attacks is believed to be one of the attackers born in Belgium. This attack would likely have happened even if zero refugees were living in France. But don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Duncan wasn’t the only politician to place the blame on refugees following the attacks. The Republican Presidential candidates had a field day. In his characteristic fashion, Donald Trump said that he would reject all refugees and deport the ones here, instead somehow creating “a big beautiful safe zone” in Syria for them to stay. He also went after Muslims, saying he would consider closing certain mosques and that he would create a database of Muslim citizens. At what point do dictatorship comparisons go from cheap political shots to accurate analyses?
Jeb Bush said that we should focus on helping Christian refugees, while Ted Cruz says we should reject all non-Christians. Even candidates who had previously been open to accepting refugees, like Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee, have grown more skeptical.
Chris Christie went so far as to say that we shouldn’t even accept “orphans under five,” asking “how are we going to care for these folks?” For someone who has dealt with laws regarding adoption in his own state, he seems shocking unaware of the concept, not to mention foster care. Christie’s comments deserve singling out simply to make the point that we have reached a point in our political culture where refusing to take in three-year-old orphans fleeing from war-torn countries is now an acceptable position to take. I look forward to candidates in future election cycles advocating for mandatory puppy execution, as that is about the only place we have left to go.
In Europe, it is the far-right nationalists and populists who strongly oppose immigration that stand to benefit the most from the attacks. The Alternative for Germany has been growing in popularity for some time, and it is now in third place in Germany. France’s National Front is now expected to win the regional elections that will take place in a few weeks.
The British Daily Mail, which is read by millions despite being the single lowest-quality newspaper in the English-speaking world, decided to top off the attacks on refugees by running a cartoon depicting many of those fleeing for their lives as rats in a manner almost identical to the cartoons depicting Jewish holocaust refugees in the late 1930s. They were praised by the popular Neo-Nazi news site The Daily Stormer for doing so.
But the backlash for migrants hasn’t only come in the form of campaign statements and newspaper clippings. Since the Paris bombings, the governors of 29 states have stated in some way or another that they don’t wish to accept any refugees. State governments may not have the legal ability to outright reject the refugees, but they still can discourage refugee settlements by refusing to offer the refugees any state services, thus making matters extremely difficult for them. In a similar fashion, Poland has used the attacks to try and get out of accepting any refugees under EU plans.
The nastiness only goes on, and on, and on. The Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, has approvingly referenced the Japanese internment camps that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor as a precedent for dealing with the issue. Conservative websites and blogs have disturbingly started to refer to accepting refugees as the “importation” of Muslims, changing their language to exclude any mention of the fact that we are talking about human lives.
As the bipartisan support for a bill blocking the acceptance of refugees shows, these political attacks are coming from Republicans and Democrats, but they are clearly being led by the conservatives in both parties. Most conservatives were already opposed to Obama’s plans of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees next year (a bit over 0.003% of the U.S. population). A Quinnipiac poll from late September shows that 74% of Republicans were opposed to the idea over a month before the attacks occurred. After all, why wouldn’t they? For those who are deeply suspicious of both immigration and Islam, letting foreign Muslims into our country is absolute heresy, regardless of the circumstances. The Paris attacks just provide a new way to justify their prejudice: concerns about national security.
Again, though, this is a rhetorical cover more than anything. Since 9/11, America has accepted 784,000 refugees. Only three of them have ever been arrested for terrorist charges; two of them had no plans to commit a terrorist plot on U.S. soil, and the other’s plots “were barely credible.”In comparison, there were three white male U.S. citizens arrested for planning to bomb black churches earlier this very month. Refugees aren’t cause to worry; in fact, refugees are probably less likely to commit an act of terrorism than anti-immigration activists.
One of the reasons for the low terrorism arrest rate among refugees is simply that, despite concerns by critics, America’s refugee screening process is astonishingly thorough. Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner called it “the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States.” If you wanted to sneak into America to commit a terrorist attack, refugee status would be your least effective way of doing so. According to The Economist:
Refugees apply for resettlement at American embassies or through the United Nations. If they pass that first hurdle, they are screened by outposts of the Department of State all over the world. They undergo investigations of their biography and identity; FBI biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counter-terrorism Centre and by American and international intelligence agencies. The process may take as long as three years, sometimes longer. No other person entering America is subjected to such a level of scrutiny.
This issue has far less to do with national security than it does basic human compassion. Unfortunately, in the wake of tragedies like this, compassion seems to become selective. Everyone sympathizes with the bombing’s victims and their loved ones, but for some, mourning is not enough. There needs to be something that they, as individuals, can do to fight back against the perceived “enemy.”
After 9/11, hate crimes against Muslim Americans skyrocketed, and they’re still far more common than they were in 2000. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earlier this year, 26 of the nation’s mosques were attacked within one week. We’re already seeing a surge of anti-Muslim sentiment now, and the results will likely be similar to those of the past.
Within several hours of the attacks, shots were fired at a mosque in Connecticut. The following weekend, a Canadian mosque was set on fire. In Florida, a man was arrested after leaving a voicemail at a local mosque threatening to come there and “firebomb you and shoot whoever is there on sight in the head, I don’t care if they are fucking two years old or 100.” Ironically, that specific mosque had endorsed a fatwa (opinion statement) in 2005 which says that “Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives” and includes in its final paragraph the statement: “we pray for the safety and security of our country, the United States, and its people.” Few have seemed to pick up on the irony. Other threats and attacks have been recorded in a number of other states.
As many people have pointed out, ISIS actively benefits from this sort of violence against Muslims, and they know it. ISIS constantly talks about its hatred of refugees fleeing the Islamic State. So what is the best way for them to convince more Muslims to move to the Islamic State? Make them think that everyone in the place that they are living hates them because of their religion. The Onion picked up on this with the joking headline: “GOP Warns Refugees Likely To Be Driven To Terrorism By Way America Would Treat Them.”
The benefits that ISIS receives from Islamophobic hate crimes has actually led some to speculate that the terrorist who was found with a fake Syrian passport brought it with him to intentionally draw attention to refugees. As Charlie Winter, a researcher of radical Islamic terrorism, pointed out: “Why would a jihadist who expressly rejects all notions of modern citizenship take his passport on a suicide mission? So it gets found.”
Regardless, no one who is seriously concerned with national security would try to further their cause by threatening other U.S. citizens. I’m not denying that there are conservatives who have genuine concerns about accepting refugees, or that there aren’t any serious issues that have to be dealt with on the matter: we need to address matters of housing, welfare, education, healthcare, and more, all complicated by language barriers. But we can handle those issues with a bit of effort. The opposition to accepting refugees is by and large not for any of those reasons.
In a nation where 40% of Republicans in one of our largest states (North Carolina) believes that practicing Islam should literally be made illegal, it’s safe to assume that this is little more than a matter of bigotry and xenophobia for many. As the examples listed above show, there is a substantial portion of the American population that is simply filled with hate and fear of the “other,” hate and fear of those different than them. Our politicians are more than happy to go along with this. At its root, then, this is not a national security issue, nor is it an economic issue: it is a moral issue, and we must treat it as such.
Refugees do not want to come here to hurt you. They do not want to bomb our churches or to attack us. They are running from the people who would like to do that. If anything, the Paris attacks should be a reminder to the West of the type of violence that these people have had to endure. This is a matter of basic moral standing, and the fact that accepting such people is even controversial should be seen as shameful. If anything, Obama’s suggested acceptance number of 10,000 refugees is far too small when compared with how many refugees there are. Because when comparing those who are fleeing hardship to seek a better life and those who would refuse help to people that are in a desperate state of need, I know who I would like to be in our country more.
Originally published at theodysseyonline.com on November 23, 2015.