The anti-Muslim ugliness began as soon as the attacks in Paris became international news. Texas senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz said in a statement Friday evening that the U.S. must “immediately declare a halt to any plans to bring refugees” from Syria into the United States. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said more or less the same, while South Carolina’s Jeff Duncan asked cynically on Twitter, “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now?”
As German Lopez pointed out in Vox, these politicians have it backwards. Terrorist attacks in Western cities should make us more sympathetic to refugees fleeing Syria: The horror in Paris Friday evening is a daily reality of the civil war they’re trying to escape.
There will be more calls in the coming days to close the United States’ borders to refugees, and in France and the rest of Europe, those voices will likely be deafening. Already in the midst of a refugee crisis, European nations may give in to anger and fear and shut their doors for good. Congress will urge President Obama to do the same and cancel modest plans to resettle some refugees from Syria.
But we should do the opposite. When we see attacks like the horror in Paris, we should open our borders to a flood of refugees, not close them. We should shower those families with generosity. We should make sure they have jobs that fit their skills. We should educate their children. We should provide them health care and whatever social services they need.
The West should do everything in its power to make those fleeing ISIS and extremism everywhere feel welcome and wanted.
We’ve been at war with terror for nearly a decade and a half now. We killed Osama bin Laden. We replaced hostile governments in Iraq and Afghanistan with client states. We defeated tyrants, yes, but we left chaos in their place.
And nothing we have done has stopped the tide of terrorist recruitment. One eyewitness account from Paris described a shooter in the Bataclan theater as 20 to 25 years old; that would have made him a child on 9/11.
How do we stop the next generation of terrorists from radicalizing? Bombing them sure doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. Keeping open the prison at Guantanamo Bay isn’t doing it either. Eliminationist rhetoric directed at Muslims isn’t going to convince terrorists not to attack us.
To win the War on Terror, to actually defeat the terrorists, we have to dry up their recruiting once and for all. We have a chance of doing that by showing Muslims everywhere – Muslims targeted by terrorists in their homeland – that we stand with them as fellow humans, and that when they face violence and oppression in their homelands, we should welcome them in ours. Even if the Paris terrorists turn out to have come from Syria – a Syrian passport was reportedly found at the scene of one bombing, though it may not have been real, and ISIS has claimed responsibility – we should still open our doors to more Syrians and other Muslims escaping extremism.
It will take a very long time to make a difference – generations. But if we want a world where terrorists can no longer recruit young people to give their lives to senseless murder, we have to show that the United States is not their enemy. Welcoming those fleeing terror is a critical first step. And rejecting refugees won’t keep terrorists determined to attack us from finding a way in.
Yes, in the short term we will ramp up our military effort against ISIS in an attempt to find some kind of justice for the deaths in Paris. But so long as we meet death only with death, the only associations we are creating in future generations with the United States and our allies are ones of pain and, frankly, terror.
We’ve bombed hospitals and weddings. We’ve killed children with drones. If those are the only responses we can muster to terrorism, we will create generation after generation of people who want to strike back. That doesn’t make us responsible for attacks against us; only those who carry them out bear that responsibility.
Our responsibility is to be better than the terrorists, and to show those who might be seduced by their hatred that the world isn’t narrow and ugly. Closing off our borders to terrorized refugees sends exactly the wrong message.