The terrorist attacks that took place across the city of Paris, France on the evening of November 13 caused the entire world to grind to a halt. Soon after the first suicide bomber detonated his vest outside of the Stade de France, where the French national soccer team was hosting the German team in a friendly match, it was evident that the worst was yet to come. Within an hour of the initial suicide bombing, four mass shootings and three other suicide bombs ripped apart the Parisian streets; all part of a massive plot by the Islamic State to kill as many people as possible.
The largest of the four mass shootings occurred at the Batalcan theater in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, where American rock band Eagles of Death Metal were performing in front of a crowd of 1,500. Survivors of the attack recall seeing four darkly clad men entering the theater about an hour into the concert, all armed with AK-47s. The men took their positions at a slightly raised platform above the main floor of the theater and shouted “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire on the crowd. As bodies began dropping all around, the concertgoers panicked and began running towards the exits. Most managed to escape the theater, with some even pretending to be dead in order to avoid getting killed. Those who were unlucky enough to have not been able to escape were then taken hostage, with the perpetrators threatening to start decapitating hostages and throwing one body out the window every five minutes two hours after the attack began. This prompted French authorities to waste no time and launch an assault on the theater in an attempt to prevent an even worse massacre. They were successful in taking out the three attackers, ending the siege as quick as it started. By the time attacks were all said and done, 130 innocent people were dead throughout Paris and another 368 were injured.
We at In Loco Politico have covered the terrorist organization and pseudo-nation the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) twice before. However, calling this malicious group “Islamic” would be an injustice to the over 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world today. ISIL represents all Muslims in the same way the Ku Klux Klan represents all Christians; in other words, not at all. Both are fringe organizations that do not at all represent the core tenets of either religion; both are groups that spread fear, hatred, and loathing among fellow human beings and should be treated as such.
Rather than associating such a savage, inhuman organization such as ISIL with the religion of nearly a quarter of the world’s population, many media outlets (including In Loco Politico) and top government officials have begun to call the group “Daesh”, which is an acronym for ISIL’s official name in Arabic, “Al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham.” It not only robs the group of any religious connotations they might have, but also serves as a derogatory term. “Daesh” sounds similar to the Arabic phrases “Dahes”, meaning “one who sows discord” and “Daes“, which means “to trample down and crush”. The group hates the term Daesh so much that it has threatened to cut the tongue of anyone caught uttering it. By using the term Daesh instead of calling them the Islamic State, we also rob the group of its legitimacy. President Obama put it best while addressing the nation in September of 2014, when he said “ISIL is not Islamic . . . and [is] certainly not a state.” As such, it would be misleading to call it the Islamic State.
The estimates of the group’s global strength ranges anywhere from 52,600–257,900 jihadists, just barely accounting for one percent of one percent of all Muslims world-wide. Let’s be extremely generous and say all Islamic extremist organizations throughout the world have a combined 10 million jihadists or sympathizers at their disposal— this would still only represent less than one percent of Muslims world-wide. If even a small percentage of Muslims were as radical as Islamic extremists are, Western society as we know it would be on its knees, attacks such as 9/11 would happen on a weekly basis, and the world would plunge into chaos even more so than it already is.
The rhetoric being spewed out by some Westerners in the wake of the Paris Terrorist is both divisive and dangerous. Republican presidential candidates are spearheading the anti-refugee movement, with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both calling on the U.S. federal government to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into our country. Cruz called President Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States “utter lunacy” while Rubio said that we should not accept more refugees into our country as it is “impossible” to do background checks on Syrian refugees.
Previous to the Paris attacks, both politicians supported accepting Syrian refugees into the United States. Just last year Cruz told Fox News that we could provide refuge without jeopardizing national security, saying “We have welcomed refugees— the tired, huddled masses— for centuries. That’s been the history of the United States”. Marco Rubio himself was open to the idea of letting Syrian refugees into the country a few months ago, also noting America’s history of accepting displaced people from around the world. After the Paris attacks, Rubio walked back his statements saying that it is impossible to do background checks on the incoming refugees. Cruz and Rubio have gotten so caught up in this anti-refugee hype being perpetuated by the right-wing that they must have forgotten that their parents (excluding Cruz’s mother) were refugees that fled communist Cuba.
As per usual, Donald “Can’t Stump the” Trump took the cake and raised the rhetoric up a few notches a week after the Paris attacks during a press conference. When asked by a Yahoo News reporter if he believed we need warrant-less searches of Muslims, Trump replied “We’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” When the reporter shot back with another question asking Trump if he thought it would be necessary to register Muslims in some form of database, Trump replied that “We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.” Here, he did neither endorsed nor rejected the idea of having a national database for Muslims in America. Instead of shying away from his ludicrous proposal, Trump bolstered his idea of a national Muslim database in the days following his initial remarks. Trump went on Twitter to clarify his database statement, tweeting the following:
The following day, Trump was invited onto Fox News, where host Kimberly Guilfoyle asked him if he would support a full Muslim database. “Basically the suggestion was made and (it’s) certainly something we should start thinking about,” Trump replied, reiterating that it was a reporter, not him, that came up with the idea. “But what I want is a watch list. I want surveillance programs. Obviously, there are a lot of problems,” Trump continued, “But, certainly, I would want to have a database for the refugees, for the Syrian refugees that are coming in because nobody knows where they’re coming from.” Again, he did not rule out the possibility of a Nazi Germany-esque database but he did change his tune a little bit. Trump might not be a career politician, but he sure knows how to dodge answering a question like one.
Trump’s inaccurate and frightening comments are only further adding fuel to the fire that is Islamophobia. Despite what Trump and other Republicans might have one believe, the refugee process in the United States is quite rigorous as it currently stands. Trying to infiltrate the United States to attack it through the refugee process is, in fact, the most difficult way for terrorist organizations to infiltrate and attack our country. Refugees must first go through a screening process overseen by the United Nations that lasts a minimum of 18 to 24 months; this wait time is longer with Syrian refugees because of security concerns and issues with the vetting process. This happens prior to getting screened by the individual countries themselves, who conduct their own round of interviews and background checks. Syrian refugees also go through an extra screening process in the United States called the Syria Enhanced Review process, which obtains biographical and biometric information on the applicants to ensure they are who they say they are and that they don’t pose a security threat. Federal agencies including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, all play a part in the process to ensure the upmost security, “making it the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States” according to Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner.
It would be much easier for terrorists to gain access to the United States if they traveled here with a tourist visa. Seeing how the attackers were European citizens, they had access to a visa waiver program which meant they could have legally entered the United States without applying for a visa first. It could have been as simple as them buying plane tickets, grabbing their passports, and making it through U.S. customs screening upon landing. Rather than waiting several years to enter and attack the United States via the refugee process, they could have easily done it in a few days to a month by other means.
One look at the proven track record of refugees in the U.S. shows that the current anti-refugee rhetoric is baseless. The United States has accepted over 750,000 of them into our country since the September 11th attacks of 2001 yet only a dozen or so have been arrested or removed from the U.S. due to terrorism concerns existing before their resettlement. In that same amount of time, there has been over 160 mass shootings in the United States, killing 486 people and wounding another 557 in total. Keep in mind, most of these shootings were carried out by white men. Since 9/11, there has not been a single domestic terrorist attack carried out by an outside entity; most terrorist attacks since 9/11 have actually been perpetrated by United States citizens rather than refugees or even illegal immigrants.
It is important to note that not one of the alleged Paris attackers entered the European Union as a refugee. In fact, seven of the nine identified attackers were European nationals. The other two came to France via Greece but did not enter the EU through the refugee program. The radicalism of the majority of the attackers was home-grown rather than imported from Syria by means of refugees.
On a day of gratitude and reflection like this past Thursday, Thanksgiving, we must remember that the pilgrims that first celebrated Thanksgiving at the Plymouth Plantation on 1621 were in fact, refugees themselves. Known as English Dissenters, the pilgrims wanted to reform the Church of England but decided to start anew once they realized they were making little to no tangible progress. However, since the church and state were one and the same entity during this time, their actions were considered treasonous thus faced prosecution and imprisonment. So they banded together and fled across the Atlantic, starting a new life in the recently-discovered Americas, away from religious and political persecution at the hands of the state.
The parallels between the pilgrims that first came to the United States and the Syrian refugees entering Western countries are pretty evident. Both were trying to escape religious persecution, both risked it all in search of a better life for themselves and their children. There is one important distinction between the two however. Unlike the Syrian refugees who are getting turned around and being pushed into the treacherous claws of the Daesh, the Native Americans accepted the pilgrims with open arms, teaching them how to fish, grow crops, and acted as a liaison between the pilgrims and other Native American tribes in the region, helping the settlements thrive and flourish. If it were not for the generosity and kindness of the Wampanoag tribe, the pilgrims would have surely died in the cruel, unforgiving North American winter. What did the United States give them in return for their help? Genocide and a few professional sports teams named after them.
It is also important to note that animosity against refugees fleeing a war zone also occurred during World War II when Jewish refugees tried to gain asylum into the United States. Though the U.S. did accept a total of 85,000 Jewish refugees between March of 1938 and September of 1939, this was far below the number that sought asylum, a number that increased to 300,000 applicants in June of 1939. Even as reports of the horrors that Nazis were committing on Jewish people and other “undesirables” alike began leaking to the United States, the U.S. Department of State placed stricter limits on immigration based on national security concerns. Sound familiar?
The actions of the Department of State echoed the thoughts of the American people, with the majority of citizens believing that the United States should try and keep out as many European political refugees as possible. This is according to a poll conducted in July of 1938 by Fortune magazine.
One of the Jewish families that was not able to flee to the United States thanks to its newly-enacted stringent refugee quotas was Anne Frank’s family. Anne, her sister Margot, and her parents Otto and Edith all tried to flee the grasp of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s but not even Otto’s strong political and business connections in America were able to grant the family safe passage into the United States. As the historian Richard Breitman put it, “Anne Frank could be a 77-year-old woman living in Boston today – a writer.” Instead, she died at the age of 15 years old at the Bergen-Belsen concentration fire camp.
The United States was on the wrong side of history then and we are slowly heading down this very same path half a century later. The Islamophobic rhetoric being used on both sides of the aisle will only intensify as the war against the Daesh drags on. Not only are we pushing defenseless refugees into certain death, but we are also ensuring the Daesh has a constant supply of potential recruits they can exploit for their war against humanity. While the fears that terrorist organizations will exploit this sign of compassion on behalf of Western countries are understandable, they are ones that are not based in fact. The United States cannot call itself a beacon of justice and hope if it itself is turning away the most vulnerable while at the same time enabling terrorists to recruit and operate. By doing so, it is feeding the fire of fear and oppression that the Daesh and other groups like it thrive off of.
To the Daesh, the words “refugees welcome” undermine their core belief that the western world and the Muslim world cannot coexist. So by scapegoating Syrian refugees and Muslims in general for the Paris attacks, we play right into their hands. They want young Muslims to believe the Western world is at war with Islam. They want Westerners to ostracize all Muslims living in their communities, thus pushing them towards the open-arms of radicalization. The Daesh wants to destroy the so-called “gray zone” in which Muslims who have not joined the self-proclaimed caliphate live in. The term gray zone refers to the space in which Muslims live in coexistence with non-Muslims in western society; they are not part of the Daesh but do not necessarily support the actions of Western countries. Destroying this neutral zone creates a binary black-and-white world of crusaders and jihadists in which if you’re not with the Daesh, you are against them.
With the way things are going, it is very likely that the Daesh’s will succeed in destroying the gray zone in which Muslims in the West live in, only further perpetuating the violence and intolerance that is currently going on. It is not too late however. We still have time to take the wind out of the Daesh’s sails by showing compassion for our fellow man while simultaneously being cautious of the dangers that lurk. The refugee crisis is growing worse and worse as the situation in Syria further deteriorates, so expect the influx of refugees— Muslim, Christian, or Kurdish, it doesn’t matter— to increase. Now is our time to take a stand against the extremism and intolerance that is tearing apart our world instead of fueling this us-versus-them mentality that both politicians and the Daesh want to instill.