Paris attacks

What a Responsible Syrian Refugee Policy Looks Like for US After Paris Attacks

In the wake of yet another terrorist attack on European soil, many Americans and Europeans have expressed concern about accepting refugees fleeing ISIS-controlled regions, most of whom are Muslim, for fear of compromising national security. Cornerstone asks: Can Western democracies enact reasonable security measures while still retaining robust protections for members of minority religions seeking refuge? If so, how? 

By: James Carafano

Following the horrific attacks in Paris last week, Americans are right to have real concerns about who might be next in the terrorists’ cross hairs. 

One issue that has moved front and center is whether terrorists are able to enter the United States while posing as Syrian refugees. This has come after at least one of the Paris terrorists appears to have slipped into Europe while pretending to be a refugee applicant. 

That is a serious issue that deserves a serious response from Washington. 

For starters, we know the White House has not dealt with the issue in a responsible manner. Even though upward of 30 governors have announced they don’t want new Syrian refugees in their states, the president has dismissed such concerns as “un-American.” 

They are anything but. Even Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that governors should “stand up and say I want to make certain I want to protect my people.” 

The apprehension on the part of the governors reflects their lack of confidence that the Obama administration is delivering a credible plan to address public safety issues and the impact on the welfare of their citizens. 

Rather than dismiss the governors, Obama ought to make a more responsible effort to address serious issues. Weeks before the Paris attacks, The Heritage Foundation wrote on the refugee crisis and the ways that we can improve the security of the refugee process. This research is now more valuable than ever. 

Serious problems exist with screening individuals, but rather than shut down the refugee system because of the potential risk, these requirements should be followed to keep Americans safe:

  • Making intelligence-based risk assessments.
  • Consulting with Congress on how to alleviate those risks.
  • Dealing with the chaos in Syria that is causing this problem.
  • Following the law without executive overreach.
  • Focusing refugee efforts on individuals on whom we have intelligence and information or can acquire it relatively easily.

These steps do not stem from irrational fears but are legitimate concerns with vetting individuals from areas like Syria. 

FBI Director James Comey has said as much: 

“If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them.” 

Indeed, there are individuals whom the United States knows little or nothing about, and whom the United States should not be looking to accept without a reasonable vetting system. There are other refugee applicants, however, where the United States already has some information and/or can gather more information. In other words, some refugee applicants are better candidates than others because we have better information with which to vet them. 

These individuals should be the focus of our refugee efforts. This effort also speaks to the importance of providing US officials with adequate intelligence tools and resources. 

Additionally and subject to intelligence assessments, the US should be looking to accept individuals likely to be those in greatest need from refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, rather than those already in Europe. 

The goal should not be to shut down legitimate humanitarian operations, but to ensure they are done in a responsible manner. This does not mean that security concerns are abandoned—far from it. 

We should seek to further all US national interests by keeping the homeland secure and helping those who are persecuted. 

Conversely, what we should not do is believe that simply taking refugees is a solution to the problem. 

Refugee programs are an emergency measure to protect those who are “persecuted or have a credible fear of persecution based on their religion, race, political beliefs, or membership in a social group.” 

They are not a substitute for a policy that deals with the source of instability. Part of the great dissatisfaction with the Obama administration is the general belief that it has no plan on how to deal with the root causes of the conflict. 

What we need is for our national leaders to take a deep breath and start acting responsibly. It is important that the US system remain different from the open door Europe is extending to the current surge of migrants and refugees. 

Europe is letting people enter without vetting and then maybe vetting them later once they reach their final destination. Under American law, US officials must vet first. That can’t change. 

Further, the current crisis should not mean there are any shortcuts. The US has taken refugees from conflict, including Iraq and Afghanistan, while active US combat operations were ongoing. 

The United States for the past several years has accepted around 70,000 refugees a year from around the world. 

Obama has announced that he will increase the refugee quota to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017, with 10,000 slots reserved for Syrians. 

The refugee system takes about 12 to 18 months to complete as cases are passed from the UN and the State Department to Homeland Security to Health and Human Services and nonprofit resettlement agencies, and includes interviews and background checks. 

Nothing during that process should be overlooked or passed over. 

The United States can and should improve the refugee vetting process by undertaking the appropriate risk assessments and consulting with Congress on the strategies for managing those risks. 

The administration ought be moving in partnership with Congress and governors about meeting both humanitarian and national security responsibilities.   

James Carafano is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in The Daily Signal. It was later republished on December 8, 2015 for the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

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Sweden and the Refugee Crisis

In the wake of the horrible terror attacks in Paris on November 13, Western politicians are forced to ask hard questions about what drives radicalization and how it should be countered. The way our leaders answer these questions will also shape many of their policies, such as migration, national security, and the state’s role in a more globalized society. Is there a risk that governments will miss the mark either by being too restrained or overreaching in their response against ISIS support? 

In Sweden radicalization and recruitment have often been explained by pointing to unemployment and social vulnerability as the main motivation to join the Islamic State. While these factors may play a part, it runs the risk of being a too-limited view. Often the religious motivation has been overlooked. This was evident when Swedish public television in the spring of 2015 broadcasted an interview with a Swedish national who had returned from fighting with ISIS. “Adam,” as the program called him, had been pretty successful in school and even had plans to become a dentist before he was radicalized. But throughout the interview “Adam” gave his religious motivation behind joining ISIS: “Allah orders us to defend his religion,” he said, adding that Sweden was a good country to live in, but that he wants his children “to grow up in an Islamic caliphate.” 

In one of the latest editions of Dabiq, which is the Islamic State’s magazine for recruitment purposes, the so-called “Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah” explains why she and other women have chosen to join ISIS: “The opponents often repeat that those who perform hijrah to the Islamic State belong to a marginalized class in their former lands, living in difficult conditions between unemployment, poverty, family problems, and psychological disorders. But I saw something contrary! I saw sisters who divorced the Dunyā and came to their Lord, striving. I saw sisters who abstained from a life of luxury and abundant wealth. I saw sisters who abandoned a beautiful home and luxurious car, and ran for the cause of their Lord.”

It is a huge irony that while the Islamic State claims to shun a life of wealth, Western politicians claim that those who fight for them are not wealthy enough. 

Another response from the West that seems to be overreaching are proposals for religious tests in our refugee policies to reject Muslims and only welcome Christians and other religious minorities. While this might be out of concern for those Christians and Yazidis fleeing Syria and Iraq, it runs the risk of penalizing “innocent women and children who are fleeing from murderous barbarians simply because they’re not Christians,” as Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said recently. While some of the theological convictions of potential Islamic terrorists may overlap to some degree with other Muslims, it is hardly an argument against excluding all Muslims from seeking refuge, as it is an example of a faulty generalization. There is also evidence that shows that radicalization has happened after immigration due to attending mosques in the new home country or listening to messages online, which has been the case in Sweden. Radicalization isn’t always hindered by closed borders. 

Proposals for religious tests also enlarge the role of the government over the individual. Right now, religious convictions are outside the jurisdiction of the state. If the state would enact religious tests in the area of immigration, there wouldn’t be any warrant against religious tests in other political areas. 

There is an irony in the fact that politicians who normally argue for smaller government would now argue for bigger government. 

Western countries are running out of time. According to Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS) at the Swedish National Defense College, radicalization and the support for terror groups like the Islamic State have been growing among young Muslims in cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Örebro for a long time. He and other researchers and journalists have for a number of years tried to bring this to the attention of Swedish politicians, but haven’t seen much interest. Therefore, it is due time that Western politicians agree to engage with the hard questions and not to settle for reductionist answers. 

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Freedom of Speech v. Freedom of Religion? How American Muslims Are Countering Hate and Getting It Right

By: Engy Abdelkader

... [A]nother part of defeating terrorists like ISIL, is upholding the rights and freedoms that define our two great republics. That includes freedom of religion. That includes equality before the law. There have been times in our history, in moments of fear, when we have failed to uphold our highest ideals, and it has been to our lasting regret. We must uphold our ideals now. Each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith and every background. -President Barack Obama, White House Press Conference with President Francois Hollande Nov. 24, 2015

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A View from Berlin

By: John M. Owen

The shock waves from the Paris terrorist attacks have disturbed Germans in particular. Their country has accepted an estimated 200,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Presumably most of these are fleeing persecution from either ISIS or some other horrendous rebel group, or from Syria’s Assad regime itself. Either way, in a real sense these are people fleeing religious persecution and seeking a place where their identity as a Christian, Yazidi, or the wrong kind of Muslim does not get them and their families killed. 

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Liberte, Egalite, Laicite? Understanding the Paris Attacks

By: Cynthia Soliman

Since the attacks in Paris on Friday, I have been following the news and analysis of the situation quite closely. Certainly, some valid points have surfaced regarding ISIS, the fight against terrorism, and the military and political implications of the attacks. One aspect I have not seen discussed but that deserves more consideration is how religious freedom factors into this situation. 

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