Refugees, Muslims, and Terrorists

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The following is from the latest issue of my newsletter, Notes From Table 30. You can subscribe by clicking here. 

Refugees

I want to talk about Paris and terrorists and radical Islam, but before I do that, I want to talk about something that has nothing to do with that: Syrian refugees. Not one of the terrorists who attacked Paris was a Syrian refugee. In fact, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Syrian conflict will understand that Syrian refugees are refugees because they’re trying to escape groups like ISIS. A fact that rarely gets mentioned in Western Media is that Muslim extremists kill more Muslims than anyone else.

The argument that Islamic extremist terrorists might be hiding out pretending to be Syrian refugees is such a weak one that not even France is buying it. In the wake of the Paris terrorist attack, France is welcoming 30,000 Syrian refugees. And yes, many of them are Muslim, but it’s worth noting that putting all Muslims in the same category is a lot like putting a Catholic grandmother and David Duke in the same category.

If you’re afraid that Muslims and America don’t mix, you might be surprised to learn that there were Muslims here before the Revolutionary War. Muslim Americans are as American as any of us. Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran. We have had over 750,000 refugees enter the country since 9/11 and not one of them has committed a terrorist act. I know some will point out that the Tsarnaev brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon were refugees, but they weren’t. And even if they had been, if 749,998 out of 750,000 are pretty good odds.

Syrian refugees aren’t terrorists. They are people simply trying to survive relentless attacks that have killed tens of thousands of their fellow citizens and want nothing more than to live.

I’ll admit that the photo above is manipulative. It’s true that a photojournalist took a photo of a 4-year-old Syrian refugee and she raised her hands thinking it was a gun. And the very concept that this 4-year-old is living a life where guns are pointed at her so regularly that it’s habit to raise her hands is heartbreaking. If you can look at that photo and not feel empathy, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. But it’s also worth noting that not all Syrian refugees look like that. Many look exactly like terrorists you see on television shows and movies. That said, there’s really no reason whatsoever not to help those people too, because again, they aren’t terrorists.

But they might be. How easy it would it be to simply slip into the crowds quietly waiting for the right time to act? Not as easy as you think. It’s not as simple as saying, “I’m a Syrian refugee and I’d like to go to America.” There are many, many steps between being a refugee and being a refugee in America. It takes months or years and as a refugee unless you already have family in a specific country, you don’t really get to choose where you’re going. Even if you are selected to go to America, there’s still an extensive process involving many interviews, background checks, identity checks, and other processes each of which must be verified and each can take weeks, months, or even years. If a terrorist organization wanted to place people inside America, doing so disguising them as Syrian refugees seems like among the least likely ways to do it. It’s worth noting that all of the 9/11 hijackers arrived here using business, tourist, or student visas. (For more details on exactly what it takes to get into the United States as a refugee click here and read about it from an immigration lawyer.)

Syrian refugees are fleeing Muslim extremists. There hasn’t been one documented case of terrorism in the United States due to refugees. Being a refugee is one of the most difficult ways possible to try to get into America. And there are dozens of other, easier, faster, and better ways to infiltrate the United States. There is no rational way to argue that Syrian refugees are terrorists.

This leaves the argument of, “Why should we help Syrian refugees when we have homeless veterans?” It’s worth pointing out that many of the Conservatives saying this voted for people who actively block veteran’s bills on a regular basis. So their sudden concern for homeless veterans is spurious at best. But that doesn’t matter, because despite the desire some have for a black or white world, we live in a world where we don’t have to choose to help either homeless veterans OR Syrian refugees. And the argument that we should entirely solve one problem before we start working on another is absolutely unrealistic and quite frankly stupid. That’s not how reality works. It’s worth noting that not one of the politicians who has been against Syrian refugees coming to America has recently any bills helping homeless veterans. Those saying ‘Why not help homeless veterans before helping Syrian refugees?’ in truth have no desire to help either group of people in need.

Muslims

I’m an atheist. According to Saudi Arabia that makes me a terrorist. This is so absurd as to be laughable, but it’s exactly the same level of absurdity as thinking all Muslims are terrorists. And yet, you have Donald Trump saying that we should have a database of all Muslims. You have Mike Huckabee saying he wants to shut down anything that influences Muslim extremists including Mosques, websites, and cafes. It may be easy to dismiss these people as fringe elements but they’re fringe elements running for President of the United States and in Trump’s case, he’s still got a shot at the nomination. So we shouldn’t dismiss them just yet.

As religions go, Islam is kind of terrible. It lends itself to violent extremism in a way that is genuinely dangerous, but the same can and should be said about Christianity. Any time you’re giving people a religious doctrine that says clearly that this doctrine is the ONLY possible way for eternal salvation and all others are either wrong or outright evil, you’ve got a fine recipe that only needs psychotics to make it worse. When you’re denying science and reality in favor of blind faith, things aren’t likely to go well.

That said, there are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. That’s 1,570,000,000 people or just over 20% of the population of the world. One in five people on the planet are Muslim. I think it’s safe to say from the lack of craters that used to be cities that the vast, vast majority of Muslims are not extremists, recognize that some of the more extreme parts of the Quran are antiquated or irrelevant, and live their lives without trying to kill people who don’t think like they do. Twelve million of those Muslims are living in the United States right now. That’s the population of New York City and Los Angeles combined. And as mentioned earlier, Muslims have been living here in America since before America was the United States.

Given that this is the case, the very concepts of putting them all in a database, encouraging them to quit their religion, making them all wear badges or similar craziness is just that. Insanity. If we’re going to stop terrorism in general or Muslim extremists in particular, the first step is recognizing who they are and who they aren’t. Given the number of terrorist attacks on United States soil committed by Christians, it’s fairly easy to argue that religious fanaticism is a bigger problem than Islam in general.

Blaming all Muslims for the actions of their worst members is like any other form of bigotry. It’s just objectively wrong.

Terrorists

Now that we’ve effectively established that terrorists are not Syrian refugees. And Muslims are typically not terrorists, let’s talk about the people who are terrorists. And for the sake of this article, let’s talk about the Islamic State or ISIS. They aren’t the most prevalent terrorists in America. (That ‘honor’ goes to radical Christians.) They aren’t the most dangerous terrorist group in the world. (That would be Boko Haram.) But I’d argue that they are the most talked about by Western media and as a result the one we as Americans seem to be both most afraid of and the ones we seem to want to do the most about.

People respond to these sorts of things in different ways. Some think that more guns are the answer. Some think that the only sane response to the insanity of brutal violence is to visit that same level of violence upon those who have done us harm. As Americans, this is an especially natural way to feel. The Boomer Bible says that if there’s only one thing true about America it’s that if you wrong us we will get you back no matter what it costs us. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my life writing stories and half my life watching our never ending war on ‘terror’, but I’ve started to see a pattern.

In the last 15 years, acts of terror have increase worldwide 500%. Unless your sole concern was the death of Osama bin Laden, any other way you measure the ‘War on Terror’, it has been a spectacular failure. So much so that it’s somewhat embarrassing that our leaders won’t admit as much. It’s like the politicians that refuse to admit climate change or that people need to be paid a living wage. It’s so obvious that you have to wonder if they’re that dumb or if they think we’re that dumb. If you’ve done something for a decade and a half and it hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time to come up with a new strategy.

For me when it comes to anyone doing something I don’t want them to do I’ve found the most effective way to deal with them is to fuck with their narrative. As humans we tell ourselves stories of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We plot and we plan. We come up with a narrative. Here’s the way the ISIS narrative works:
–       They commit some atrocity killing dozens of people.

–       The West responds predictably with bombing runs, drones, and other politically acceptable means of mass destruction that limit the danger to Western troops.

–       These bombs kill and injure thousands of civilians as well as their intended targets.

–       This results in disenfranchised civilian survivors who have had their lives damaged or ruined by Western actions, leaving them vulnerable to radical Islam recruiters who tell them that the West wants nothing less than to kill every last Muslim on the planet. They tell them how all Westerners hate and will never accept Muslims in their countries.

–       This causes some Muslims to join ISIS and commit some atrocity that continues the cycle. (It’s worth noting that this cycle also makes a ton of money for those that sell weapons to Western governments.)

And so when I see people saying they don’t want to allow Syrian refugees in because they’re predominantly Muslim, I see these people basically doing exactly what ISIS wants them to do. They are following the narrative that has failed us again and again and again.

The greatest military in the history of the world has been actively fighting ISIS and groups like ISIS since the turn of the century with almost nothing to show for it because that’s part of the narrative. Spending billions of dollars on a war without end makes defense contractors very rich. Certainly there are those in power who would love to stop ISIS, but there are just as certainly those who are profiting incredibly from a tactic that has failed for nearly a generation.

If we want a different story, we must fuck with the narrative. It starts by not reacting so predictably to acts of terror. One hundred twenty-nine people died in the attack in Paris last week. Since 1948 there have been 265 terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists all over the world. Those attacks have killed a total of 19,865 people. That works out to an average 296 people every year all over the world who are killed by acts of Islamic extremists. In America 82 people die from gunshot wounds every single day. About as many people shoot and kill themselves every year in America as have been killed by Islamic terrorists in the last half century. While terrorist’s tactics are often flashy and spectacular, they aren’t even remotely a statistical problem compared to so many other potential causes of death. So step one in fucking with the narrative is simply not overreacting.

Fucking With The Narrative of Islamic Terrorism

  1. Stop Overreacting. The reaction to a terrorist attack should not be revenge, but resilience. We should not be promising a ‘pitiless war’. We should not be saying that it’s changed Europe forever. We should not be suddenly looking to see if our surveillance needs to be even more widespread. We should be pointing out that the day before the attack, Paris was a city full of life, love, and humanity in all its variations. And the day after the attack, it was still that same city. You blew something up? We’ll rebuild. You killed people? We will mourn and we will move on. You want us to hate you? You’re not worth that much energy because what you do means nothing. These pathetic attempts to attack our way of life will not change who we are because we do not give you that power. And fuck you.
  2. Stop Bigotry. All of the terrorists in the world represent a tiny, tiny fraction of humanity. They are not representative of Muslims. They are not representative of Arabs. They’re not representative of anything but small groups of zealots who are willing to kill those they do not agree with. While many of these groups have a tribal mentality, these groups come from all sorts of tribes. If you want to really bother ISIS, accept Muslims as fellow human beings. It goes against absolutely everything they believe in.
  3. Stop The War on Terror. We should have learned with the War on Drugs that wars against ideas not only never end, but they can never be won. No amount of bombing, invasions, drones, intelligence, or special-forces will eliminate every last Muslim extremist with a willingness to blow themselves up or shoot a gun into a crowd. More to the point, every tiny piece of collateral damage is ammunition for radical Islam to recruit more members. In a war on terror, every bomb and every bullet creates more terrorists than it kills. We should not continue to be a part of this.
  4. Stop Playing Nice with Saudi Arabia and other ‘allies’. We’ve known for a while now that most of the funding for ISIS and other terrorist groups comes from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. They fund these groups in part as payoff in return for a distinct lack of terrorism on their country. The Saudis could stop this. They could go after organizations identified as fronts for terrorist activities. But they don’t. And we do nothing about it. If we’re serious about hurting ISIS and Islamic terrorists everywhere, killing their funding will do more than any bomb.
  5. Stop Being Terrorized By Terrorists. We’ve established that terrorist attacks are about rare as they are tragic. No matter what scary images they show us online and on television we know that it’s about the least likely way for you to die. As an American you’re literally more likely to be struck by lightning. Your fear of terrorists does not reflect reality and it’s time that it did. Rather than headlines proclaiming ‘The Biggest Attack On Paris Since WWII’, it’d be more realistic to say, ‘Handful of Zealots Fail To Destroy Our Way of Life.

– Jack Cameron

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