Page: Terrorists want us to reject Syrians

Clarence Page
View Comments

Remember how news photos of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy in September put new pressure on the West to welcome more refugees? That was then.

Last week’s attacks in Paris have sparked the opposite response after a Syrian passport was found near the body of a Paris suicide bomber. A shamefully robust chorus of American politicians is falling over themselves to show how hostile they can be to refugees of a war America played a major role in creating.

This is especially true of Republican presidential candidates, as the issue quickly took on a sharply partisan divide. The Democratic candidates want to accept at least the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Barack Obama has announced plans to accept — which is far fewer than our European allies are taking in.

The Republicans? Not so much. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order on Monday to block the settlement of any Syrian refugees from the so-called Islamic State’s war in Iraq and Syria.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio reversed his previous support of refugees, saying there’s no way they can be properly vetted. Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired surgeon Ben Carson voiced similar doubts. Mike Huckabee, Arkansas’ former governor, called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to resign if he won’t block refugees’ arrival. By CNN’s count, at least 27 governors have indicated they will try to block Syrian refugees from their states.

Most disturbing, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said this country should shift its focus to allow Christian refugees but not Muslims. Donald Trump said he even would consider “closing mosques.” Yes, the presidential race has sunk that low.

“That’s shameful,” President Barack Obama responded to that news. “ That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Is shutting our national door to refugees a good idea? Appearances can be deceiving.

Yes, I believe Americans should welcome Syria refugees. My family and I live and work in the nation’s capital, which unconfirmed Islamic State videos name as the terror group’s next big target city, so I don’t take that position lightly.

But I oppose closing the door because that’s what the Islamic State wants.

The refugee flow is “anathema” to the Islamic State, writes Aaron Y. Zelin, who catalogs the group’s messages at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, because it underminds the pitch that its “self-styled caliphate is a refuge.”

If its conquered land was a refuge, then hundreds of thousands of people would be settling in instead of risking their lives to get out, Zelin writes. But hostile reaction to refugees, he notes, “only bolsters (the Islamic State’s) contentions and risks spurring future, avoidable tensions.”

Counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir speculates in a Washington Post op-ed that the Islamic State deliberately “set a trap” for Europe with the Paris attacks to put Muslims in the West into a dilemma: Leave the faith or travel to the Islamic State to supposedly “escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens.”

That would fit the fanatical Islamic State’s apocalyptic prophesy of a great war with the West. Some knowledgeable souls even have suggested that the organization may have planted the passport near the Paris bomber to further inflame anti-refugee sentiments. In fact, there’s nothing easy about this country’s refugee screening process. Those who arrive from Syria receive extra rigorous attention from multiple government agencies, including the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. Although the agencies won’t reveal much detail for security reasons, the process can take years, which leaves many legitimate refugees in a legal limbo.

What’s the answer? We should indeed have a rigorous screening process. We can recognize the religious nature of the Islamic State’s terror war without demonizing the vast majority of Muslims who have not fallen for its propaganda.

Clarence Page writes for the Chicago Tribune.

View Comments