In the wake of the attacks in Paris, governments around the world have enforced tighter security measures to ensure the immediate safety of their citizens. In the midst of heightened fear we must ensure that we do not enact any policy changes that are rash and that may not only prove to be inefficient, but are unnecessarily undermining the livelihood of other people.
The series of attacks in Paris left at least 129 victims dead and over 350 injured or wounded. As the extensive search for the perpetrators continues, authorities believe that one of the attackers may have disguised himself as a refugee, traveling with a group through Greece in early October. These concurrent events of a massive refugee movement and the recent attacks introduce the possibility of falling into the trap of xenophobic and racist political responses disguised as security measures and accepted by citizens as necessary precautions.
Immediately after the attacks, France’s President, François Hollande, announced temporarily closing the French border, something that the nation had not seen since 1944 at the end of World War II. Many European countries, including Germany, have suspended the Schengen agreement, which had made travel between participating countries easier since 1985. These changes, however, are seen as short-term decisions intended to help catch any of the fleeing attackers. The intention behind the closing of the French border is crucial, as the measure seems to be set up to block off exit from the country as opposed to entrance. The problem, however, begins to escalate tenfold once other countries begin tightening borders from incoming refugees, many of whom are trying to escape from the exact same sorts of horrors that we are trying to prevent by closing more borders.
GOP frontrunner Donald Trump was quick to politicize the issue by inciting the NRA’s prescription for a world diagnosed with an obsession for weaponry, namely, by pointing out that if the victims of the Paris attacks had guns the events would have unfolded quite differently, despite the fact that countless studies have found that an introduction and increase in weapon prevalence is strongly correlated with increased incidents of violence. Go figure.
Closing the gap in the GOP race to the White House, Dr. Ben Carson considered aloud what he would do if he were “one of the leaders of the global jihadist movement,” according to New York Magazine and explained how hiding someone in the group of refugees would be a viable way of infiltrating a country. As stated before, authorities do in fact believe that at least one of the attackers travelled with a group of refugees and had possibly used a fake passport; however, barring all refugees from entering the country isn’t isolating and eliminating the problem at hand, something I would imagine a neurosurgeon would’ve gotten fairly good at by now.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, approximately 210,060 people have died in Syria, according to conservative estimates, averaging about 144 people per day. Yet apart from the hardships of escaping a nation undergoing a civil war, these estimated 4-million Syrian refugees now also have to experience the ugly faces of xenophobia and racism, as refugees are increasingly being targeted as being potential culprits in future attacks.
The U.S., however, has issued no plans on curtailing the effort to accept refugees, with President Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes explaining, according to USA Today, “Let’s remember, we’re also dealing with people who’ve suffered the horrors of war, women and children, orphans. We can’t just shut our doors to those people. We need to sort out how to focus on the terrorists that we need to keep out of the country.” While the U.S. is still on track to accept around 10,000 Syrian refugees, sentiments have grown heated.
Two U.S. law enforcement officials have already disclosed that the FBI plans on increasing monitoring of any suspected ISIS sympathizers. Whenever possible, we ought to go about finding ways to prevent terrorism that do not infringe upon the rights of humans, whether that be racially profiling individuals, closing borders from refugees, or invading the privacy of others. Terrorism pundit John Schindler recently wrote a piece in which he suggested that the only way to go about preventing such attacks in France was to begin arresting and imprisoning “potential jihadists,” those who may hold certain beliefs even if they have not committed any crime yet. This sort of thought-policing, already inherently problematic, is now also susceptible to subjecting certain groups of individuals to scorn over others. The last thing, it seems, that Europe needs in the midst of a large refugee crisis and increasing racial and xenophobic sentiments is the systematic generalization, accusation, and internment of large groups of minority groups.
Very often we begin to forget that many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees are trying to escape exactly that which we are trying to defeat: violent theocracies. One dentistry student and Syrian refugee reflected on the recent attacks in Paris by saying to ThinkProgress, “What’s happening to them is happening every day in Syria, 100 times per day for five years…”
The student’s point is not to belittle the Paris attacks, but rather, seems to be an effort to make people realize that we are both fighting on the same side. Why is it then, that we do not account for those who have already been terrorized by Islamic extremism, such as many of these Syrian refugees? Preventing mass terrorism and attending to victims of a common enemy are not mutually exclusive ideas. Conflating the Syrian refugee crisis with terrorism only catalyzes unnecessary tensions, neglects the millions of victims of senseless acts of injustice, and breeds domestic xenophobia and racism.
Yet many choose to ignore the plights of the refugees and insist on favoritism, especially whenever it is most politically and personally convenient. GOP presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for instance, after the attacks called for the U.S. to take in refugees, insofar as they are Christians, of course. This sort of petty religious favoritism has no place when considering the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. To add insult to injury, Cruz continued by releasing an official statement on his website in which the senator claims that the U.S. ought to be less concerned about killing civilians in airstrikes, especially “when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.” One cannot justify one wrongdoing by trying to replicate it under a different flag.
Regardless, French fighter jets dropped twenty bombs on ISIS sites in Raqqa, Syria, on Sunday. But this wasn’t some last resort militaristic strategy. It was purely retribution, with retired Major General James “Spider” Marks explaining, “It’s a military activity, but it really sends a very strong political message, and it’s all for internal consumption within France. This is very visceral. The types of targets they strike right now really are symbolic.”
There is no justification for dropping “symbolic bombs.” Our outcry should be for France to stop using human lives as a way to get a message across. Isn’t this the sort of senseless violence, the utter disregard for human lives, that which we’re trying to stop by dropping these bombs and engaging in further military action? It is easy to consider situations in which war may truly be a last resort; the hard part is coming up with solutions before we reach that point.
As Janine di Giovanni, an editor for Newsweek, said, “I think that it’s very complicated, launching airstrikes like this as a retribution, but also as a way of wiping out ISIS. Because, the other thing is, that you can’t wipe out an ideology.” And she’s absolutely right.
Instead of focusing on hasty militaristic efforts, we should remember that it was only in 2013 that Saudi Arabia passed legislation criminalizing the financial support of terrorist organizations including the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Al-Nusra. Despite the passed legislation, ISIS is believed to have received funding of upwards of $40-million in just the past two years from either governments or private sources in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, three of America’s allies in the region.
ISIS’ reliance on weapons and wealth exposes the group’s vulnerability. The use of brute force and violence exposes the insecurities of the ideas backing the movement. Without access to these sorts of weapons, many of which are American-made, as well as the wealthy donors to this cause, it seems that the scope of ISIS and its effects may crumble if we cut off ISIS from that which makes it dangerous to humanity: its violent ways. Instead of falling into the NRA logic of claiming that violence can only be stopped by more violence, perhaps we ought to consider getting to the source of the problems and begin dismembering ideas instead of people.