One week after the terrorist attacks in Paris something is different from all other times there have been similar or even worse events, like 9/11, the Madrid train bombing and the London subway bombing, only to mention a few. In spite of assurances from local authorities that there are no credible threats in the US at this point in time people are anxious, and on the right anti-Muslim sentiments and xenophobia are rising to new levels. The question is why, and I think the answer lies in a combination of four factors: First, the locations of the Paris attacks – a soccer stadium, restaurants, a concert hall – make people aware once again that anything can now be a target and anybody can therefore be targeted. Second, the fact that the ‘caliphate’ in Syria and Iraq has taken on the appearance of a state, with subsidiaries in a growing number of countries where aspiring Jihadi terrorists from all over the world can be trained on site and an on-line training program for distant learners. Third, the resulting awareness that the terrorists are already among us, and fourth, that fourteen years after 9/11 it is clear that living with terrorist threats and attacks is our future.
Never reluctant to step right into the Jihadists’ trap to make the fight against terrorism a war of ‘the west’ or Christianity against Islam, some prominent Republicans have made outrageous statements during the last week. Before backtracking when criticized Donald Trump called for a national registry of Muslims in the US, and the Mayor of Roanoke in Virginia proposed an internment program similar to the one for Americans of Japanese descent during WWII, while Governors of thirty-one states declared that refugees would not be welcome. Chris Christie expressed his fear of five year old orphans, and Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. But also the slightly less extreme responses show the dysfunctional way in which politicians are responding to the sentiment of a significant part of the public. John Kasich proposed the creation of an institute to promote Judeo-Christian values, and the House approved a bill, with the support of 47 Democrats, that would require the Directors of the FBI and National Intelligence as well as the Secretary of Homeland Security to personally certify every refugee.
The shameless attitude of a majority of the US population towards admitting any refugees from the Middle East – at last count 53% was against – that Republicans are trying to translate into policy, is comparable to the similarly shameless attitude towards admitting Jewish refugees from Europe in the 1930s. The only difference is that the current refugees are suspected of being terrorists while the Jews were suspected of being Bolsheviks or at least radical socialists.
Apart from being immoral and strategically counterproductive the fear of refugees is also insane. The vetting process of any refugee takes at least twenty-two months, while holders of most European passports can enter the US without any vetting, and annually over twenty million foreigners are admitted on H1-B visas. Terrorists would be nuts to try and enter the US as refugees.
During a press conference in the Far East Obama criticized the paranoid Republican xenophobia and caught some flak for his ‘snarky’ tone, but it was good that he said what finally needed to be said. If it was up to some GOP candidates the terrorists would already have won.