Demonizing Syrian Refugees Fleeing Violence Plays Into ISIS’s Hands
The world is still reeling from Friday’s devastating terror attacks in Paris. The attacks, which left 129 dead and hundreds more injured, were the deadliest act of violence Paris has seen since World War II and have refocused attention on the threat of ISIS. There have been some amazing displays of the human spirit in the wake of the tragedy, from the global outpouring of support for the victims and the city of Paris, to the simple act of Parisians returning to cafes in a refusal to submit to terrorism-driven fear.
Unfortunately, displays of Islamophobia and anti-refugee rhetoric have also emerged. Many conservative leaders want to deny asylum to all Syrian refugees, and support discriminating against refugees based on their religion, calling for Christian refugees to receive different treatment than Muslim refugees. In response to the attacks, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush suggested the country should focus on “Christians that are being slaughtered,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said the United States should continue to accept Christians but not “refugees that may be been infiltrated by ISIS.” Donald Trump went as far as to say that he would “strongly consider” shutting down mosques in the United States.
Some conservative lawmakers are taking this Islamophobia further than just rhetoric. Conservatives in Congress, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), are trying to attach a budget rider to Congress’ year-end spending bill that would prohibit the Obama administration from spending any money to allow Syrian refugees into the country until the intelligence community signed off on the process. On Sunday, the Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to take in 10,000 refugees who are fleeing devastation and death tolls that are similar to the Paris attacks on a daily basis.
Republican governors from thirteen states and counting, in an equally reactionary display of irrational fear, have vowed to refuse Syrian refugees in their states. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was the first to announce his refusal saying, “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley followed suit, tweeting, “I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.” These claims fly in the face of the evidence: The security screening process, which can last up to 2 years for some refugees, is the most intensive of any checks conducted for people seeking admission to the U.S., is designed to mitigate any threats, and helps ensure U.S. citizens are not placed in harm’s way.
Refusing all Syrian refugees is as illogical as it is immoral. Speaking at the G20 Summit today, President Obama explained precisely why it is the wrong approach: “The values that we are fighting against ISIS for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people based on their faith.” Syrian refugees are all too familiar with the devastating violence Paris experienced. To deny them entrance into our country is to deny our history as a nation of immigrants and as a democratic safe haven.
BOTTOM LINE: Friday’s devastating attacks refocused the world’s attention on the threat of ISIS. While we must be unyielding in our fight against this evil force and protect the security of our citizens, we must also never compromise the values of freedom and openness that make us the target of their hate. Those who do with xenophobic comments and policies help reinforce exactly what the terrorists seek to create: a culture of fear and hatred.
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