A day after ISIS operatives killed over a hundred people in Paris, the French military dropped some bombs on Raqqa, Syria—the de facto capital of the Islamic State. The attack was mostly symbolic, as probably no ISIS agents were killed. But it signaled how the West would be dealing with ISIS. Unfortunately, it also signaled how the West would deal with the Middle East at large.
Twenty-seven of 50 US state governors have signed executive orders refusing the relocation of Syrian refugees into their states. Mostly because exactly one of the ISIS operatives who perpetrated the terrorist acts in Paris “smuggled” himself into Europe as a Syrian refugee. While I am fully cognizant that a very small percentage of Syrian refugees might actually be terrorist agents, the obviously vast majority of them are merely victims of the same terrorists we are fighting against.
The question should not be, “How can we be safe now?” The question should be, “How can we secure peace and safety into the future?” Right now, it seems like everyone is mostly concerned with security now. This is understandable. But it is also cowardly. The very small likelihood that some of the refugees might be terrorists is not reason enough to reject all refugees.
Let me tell you what will happen if we reject the Syrian refugees and begin to treat all Middle Easterners as our enemies: ISIS will grow stronger. For some reason, we don’t seem to understand this. I don’t really know why. ISIS doesn’t need big weapons. They don’t need high-tech equipment. They don’t need great numbers. All they need are a few hopeless people with nothing to lose dedicated to sowing misery and terror in the West. We are virtually creating those people for ISIS right now.
Syrian refugees probably aren’t ready to become ISIS agents quite yet. But just wait. If everyone in the West rejects them, they’ll be ripe for the picking. ISIS knows this. We apparently don’t. We just don’t ever learn. Which of these ended the Cold War: stockpiled nuclear weapons or well-stocked grocery stores? If you don’t know the answer, you should. The way we are going to win this battle against terror is through real courage. After all, the aim of terrorists is to terrorize. So they win when we react to their actions in fear. That is precisely what we are doing now regarding Syrian refugees.
Real, lasting peace requires the courage to be vulnerable if that’s what it takes to be compassionate. The courage to maintain civil liberties even when that means more responsibility and fewer feelings of security. The courage to sow peace rather than war in the Middle East by bringing our troops home, opening up trade and diplomacy, and showing everyday Middle Easterners why they should be eradicating terrorists.
We need to receive Syrian refugees because most of them are helpless and hopeless—and harmless. But we also need to take them in before ISIS convinces them that their only hope is throwing in their lot with Islamic extremists. Almost all of them are fleeing ISIS violence. They could become our greatest allies. Our fear might turn them into our greatest enemies.