From the Comments: So what should the US do with Syrian refugees?

There have been a number of excellent discussions in the ‘comments’ threads recently. I have been following them all, but I’m trying to space out, for beauty’s sweet sake, what I think are especially good insights here (my fellow Notewriters are welcome to do the same).

Dr Khawaja’s answer to Dr Delacroix’s question about what he would do “with respect to the Syrian refugees coming to this country” is worth another look:

I would do exactly what the Obama Administration is doing. Let the Syrian refugees in, vet them, and accept the risks. I more or less said that in one of the links I posted [here – BC]. Here’s the vetting procedure, by the way:

I haven’t heard anyone explain what’s wrong with it. Its rigor far exceeds anything applied to student visas or tourist visas.

As for the “Zionist extremists who helped during the war of independence,” the Irgun and Lehi were by all accounts terrorist organizations. They began a campaign of terror well before the war of independence. Their doing so was instrumental to bringing about the mass exodus of Palestinians from what was to become Israel. The Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, who was later to become Prime Minister of Israel. In other words, Israel was not only founded by terrorists, but the Israelis had no compunction electing the self same terrorists to lead their country in subsequent years (Shamir and Sharon being the other two).

I don’t know where you get the idea that “the Jews that the US failed to take in before WWII were German Jews.” Why couldn’t they have been, say, Polish or Russian? And where is the difficulty in imagining militantly communist or fascist Polish or Russian Jews?

“I think it’s not difficult separating Muslims from Christians. Boko Haram does it all the time.”

Well, if we’re going to use arguments like that, why don’t I just say that it’s not difficult separating terrorists from non-terrorists. The TSA does it all the time. Now, if you’d like to propose that we start hiring members of Boko Haram for positions in the TSA, I’m skeptical, but all ears.

I should point out that in one of the posts I pasted up there, I was the one pointing out to someone at my blog that there is no eliminating the risks if we allow the Syrian refugees in. The risks are ineliminable. But I live in the New York City area. I go in to Manhattan whenever I get the chance. If there is a terrorist attack, it’s likely to take place right here. It’s not as though I’m merely imposing risks on other people and cowering somewhere else in safety.

Well? Is the vetting process as it stands good enough? Without reading the link Dr Khawaja provided, I feel confident claiming that it is. Violent criminals shouldn’t be allowed into this country (unless the crimes were committed a long, long time ago), of course. Sex offenders is too tricky a topic to deal with right now (think about getting in trouble for mooning in Russia or something like that), but if the crimes weren’t violent I’d opt for a let ’em in and wait approach. Terrorists of the Islamist variety that come from failed Arab states tend to be good boys at home. What about people with military backgrounds? What about the fact that states in the Arab world have laughable bureaucracies and that records should be taken with a big ole’ dose of salt?

Irfan hasn’t had the pleasure of knowing Jacques as long as me or Dr Terry, so his responses are bit more polite and more serious than what we tend to throw at him now. I forget sometimes just how important obstinate, bellicose ignorance can be for igniting important dialogues (Donald Trump, anyone? Bernie Sanders?).

On a slightly different note: I wonder if the uncomfortable fact that some of Israel’s founders were terrorists, coupled with the fact that Israel is the most successful state in the post-Ottoman world today, is an unacknowledged reason why Arabs have turned to the same tactics today. Why would anybody want to copy a failure, after all?

2 thoughts on “From the Comments: So what should the US do with Syrian refugees?

  1. If we’re talking about security and refugees, it is also worth looking at how refugees that are kept near or in the conflict zones tend to be prime targets for recruitment by extremist groups. This is a pattern that has replicated over and over again, from Colombia to the Congo to Afghanistan.

    In Colombia, violent paramilitary groups linked with the state carried out forced displacement and massacres against peasant communities, and this displaced population then ended up being a prime pool of recruitment for these paramilitary groups, creating a vicious feedback cycle (see: Jasmin Hristov’s “Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia”). In Afghanistan, the Taliban were drawn largely from refugees who had ended up at the Afghan-Pakistani border camps, and indoctrinated with fundamentalist Islamic ideology in schools funded by Saudi Arabia and facilitated by the Pakistani intelligence agency (see: Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars” and Ahmed Rashid’s “Taliban”).

    I have no doubt that Syrian refugees in the Syrian region are prime targets for extremist groups. It is therefore in Western countries’ interests to get them as far away from these groups as possible, and break the vicious feedback cycles that always emerge in prolonged violent conflicts.

    • Thanks Arjun, and a great point.

      My intuition is to agree with you wholeheartedly, and I do, but I’d be convinced outright if I could find some good ethnographic accounts of this phenomenon. Hristov’s background in sociology makes her a bit suspect (lemme guess: “neoliberalism” and Right-wing factions are to blame for everything in her account?) and journalists, even well-educated or well-placed ones, tend to eschew theory for convenience in narrative.

      But, yeah, leaving refugees to wallow in camps along a border is definitely a moral failing. Not only on the part of the West, but on the part of the states whose borders are keeping these poor people out. That Islamists or other non-state actors would exploit this failing is unsurprising.

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