Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fight ISIS by Accepting Syrian Refugees

Earlier this year, I traveled to Lebanon to interview Syrian refugees. The Lebanese hate ISIS every bit as much as the West; their have been a number of incidents where ISIS thugs kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and beheaded them. Last week of course, Lebanon was hit by an ISIS suicide bombing that killed 43. Even in the hostel I stayed out there was a plaque for Peter Kessig- a well liked frequent guest. Kessig was of course kidnapped by ISIS while trying to help Syrian children and decapitated on film.

The Syrians I interviewed were not afraid of ISIS, but rather Assad. One man had been beaten, imprisoned, and tortured by Assad's thugs. He was living without electricity or a job in Beirut. Without Lebanese papers, he was ineligible to receive for work authorization or any government benefits. 

Lebanon, unlike the US, actually is burdened by the influx of refugees. Whereas we are a country expressing grave concerns about 10, 000 potential refugees, Lebanon is a country of less than 4 million citizens with over a million refugees. Lebanon is now solidly over 25% Syrian refugee; the U.S. polity is disturbed about the possibility of a .003% Syrian refugee influx. 

Its worth noting the security checks Syrians must pass through. They must go throw two security checks before they even are permitted to interview with the consulate. Then they face two more checks where the CIA, FBI, NSA, and DOJ rigorously go through all their intelligence on the individual in question. If there is even a hint from their story that they may have cooperated with a terrorist group, the individual will likely fail the checks. Even after an individual has been placed with a resettlement agency, he still must undergo another thorough check. Materially aiding or abetting a terrorist organization is grounds for inadmissibility. This could potentially include giving a terrorist some rice with a gun pointed at your head (the rice is materially benefiting the terrorist). The background checks normally take between 18 and 24 months. If these checks do not qualify as thorough, its hard to know what could classified as such.

Finally, let me make two points that are often ignored.

First, many politicians bluster about being tough on ISIS. But one of the simplest and probably the must crucial step to fighting ISIS is to protect the Syrian and Iraqi men and women on the ground who have stood up to and fought against ISIS. Many potential Syrian refugees have literally gone to battle against ISIS. When their families are threatened or sometimes killed because they dared to stand up to ISIS and our response to them when they ask for asylum is "Well, sorry, we think you might be a terrorist," then that certainly is not going to help us get partners on the ground going forward. If you brag about how tough you are on ISIS, then you must want to reward those who helped us battle them. You are spouting nonsense if you claim otherwise.

Second, far fewer Americans than Europeans have gone off to fight for ISIS in the Middle East. Why? Because America is a multicultural society that has a long history of embracing immigrants and outsiders. We also are far more protective of freedom of religion- a law banning burqas per se would be unanimously ruled unconstitutional here. For these reasons, Muslims have integrated into the United States much more effectively than in Europe. If we turn our back on this heritage, we will face many of the same issues Europe is currently confronting.

Let me conclude by saying there are real security risks. We must not ignore that. But the costs of turning our back on Syrian refugees are much greater than the risks of offering a helping hand. 

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