Responding to the Paris Attacks

If you follow me on any number of my social media accounts, you might have noticed that I've been very vocal about avoiding the Islamaphobia treadmill that feeds ISIS recruiting efforts.  You might actually be tired of seeing tweets like this:

 

However, I haven't actually compiled my own thoughts on the subject instead of relying on resharing and rehashing already viral content.  Between resharing others, and repeating the same arguments ad nauseum, I've probably been a bit of a broken record on the tragedy.  Which is why I've decided to make this post:  To state the things that shouldn't, but apparently must, be said.


The decision to admit, or reject, refugees is a matter of international law.


Before delving into this, we should first identify why the United States accepts refugees in the first place.  In 1951 the United States, along with 19 other country signed into international law the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  In this 1951 convention, the United Nations defined a refugee as well as establishing the rights and responsibilities of refugees and prohibited signatory countries from returning refugees to areas in which they've fled.

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..”
— U.N. Convention on Refugees (1951)
“No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion”
— U.N. Convention on Refugees (1951)

The convention went through a minor face lift in 1967 that removed geographic restrictions and time limits on refugees (the 1951 article was mainly to aide those fleeing World War II), and both were built upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was ratified by 48 U.N. nations in 1948.  The overall effect of this expansion of the Declaration of Human Rights into international law gives multiple layers of legal precedence and credibility to the Convention on Refugees.

As a result, it is a violation of international law to "expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion."

The bolded religion becomes of particular importance when we consider that the Middle East is in the middle of a religious civil war and has been for quite some time.  You may have heard of the Shi'ites and the Sunnis on the news but not known quite what they were.  Read this article, or read the summary below:

...[W]e learn the history of the Sunnis (the liberal and secular centrists) and the Shiites (the politically active Public who happen to be disillusioned with Sunni rule). While these religious tensions played havoc in the region for centuries, stability was more-or-less obtainable due to the two competing groups being separated by geographic and national borders. Unfortunately, after WWI, Britain and her allies arbitrarily redesigned national borders, causing nations that were once (nearly exclusively) Sunni to have a Shiite minority and nations that were once (nearly exclusively) Shiite to have a Sunni minority. The resulting population mix resulted in countries having a disenfranchised minority being governed by an oppressive and theologically competitive majority; a recipe for political strife.

For all legal purposes, those who flee the theocratic extremism of ISIS (or Al Qaeda), are fleeing for belonging to a different religion (allegorical aide:  Catholicism v Protestants; outsiders might consider both Christian but IIRC there was a time in history when such comparisons ended in violence) as well as a different social or political caste.


THE DECISION TO ADMIT, OR REJECT, MUSLIM REFUGEES IS A MATTER OF ETHICS.


This should not need to be said, but apparently it does:

You cannot reject someone a right, privilege, or opportunity based on their religious preference. 

While you can disagree on whether or not the United States should accept refugees (of any type), to attempt to reject only those of a certain ethnicity, religion, or social status is horrible.  Seriously.  No.


We should house our homeless veterans before accepting refugees.


This sounds nice, but it's complete bullshit.

  1. Homelessness is an epidemic in America; homeless veterans should not be used in lieu of homeless civilians.  It's gross.
  2. Homelessness has been a problem long before the refugee crisis in the Middle East, and the United States has done little on a national level to combat it.
  3. Homelessness is combated at a state level; refugee resettlement at a national.  This is why some states (Utah and Virginia - who was a little hyperbolic) kick ass, and others suck.  Comparing refugee resettlement to homelessness shows a dramatic lack of understanding in the way our government functions.
“On this Memorial Day weekend eve, we can finally admit that America has had for over 200 years a great bipartisan tradition of honoring those who have fought for our freedom by fucking them over once they give their guns back.”
— Jon Stewart

The use of "homeless veterans" as a stand-in for refugee resettlement is a gross attempt to bury the lead.  Not only does it ignore international law, forget that our nation is capable of tackling more than one issue at a time, and completely ignore our history of fucking over the homeless, it's a thinly veiled attempt to derail the conversation.  It's pretty difficult to argue with that point because, I mean, who doesn't want the brave men and women of our military to be taken care of?  Besides, you know, every Congress ever.


What about syria? Lebanon? Japan?  Why do we only care when white people die?


Ignoring the well documented work that people react most strongly to violence against people who look most like them, there's something to be said about the unacknowledged risk analysis.  Every day we do thousands of risky things:  Driving a car, flying through JFK, leaving your car running in Downtown Memphis.  As we do these things we acknowledge that there is a chance of something bad happening and we make the decision to do these things anyways.

When these things happen without us realizing there is a risk, we react more strongly.  The sense of tragedy when a child dies is usually stronger than when a grandmother loses her fight to cancer.  We are, essentially, prepared for some tragedies more than others. That's why terrorism is so fucking, well, terrifying.  No one expects to go to a concert and not come back, but of the ways in which we've prepared to "not come back," multiple explosions and meticulous executions are not among them.

You never think it will happen to you. It was just a Friday night at a rock show. The atmosphere was so happy and everyone was dancing and smiling. And then when the men came through the front entrance and began the shooting, we naively believed it was all part of the show. It wasn’t just a terrorist attack, it was a massacre. Dozens of people were shot right in front of me. Pools of blood filled the floor. Cries of grown men who held their girlfriends dead bodies pierced the small music venue. Futures demolished, families heartbroken. In an instant.
— Isobel Bowdery

That quote is from a (since removed) Facebook post that made it viral through Buzzfeed (and other organizations).  What's striking about the quote is that Isobel succinctly articulates what makes this tragedy so god damn horrifying:  It isn't supposed to happen.

Granted, no tragedy should occur, and we should remain vigilant to not become desensitized to the suffering in parts of the world that get less media attention (Syria, et al), but when these tragedies do occur in our countries they hit a different note.  It's the extremists way of reminding us that they can reach out and touch us in our homes, and that is supposed to terrify us (hence the colloquial term: terrorist).  It isn't somehow immoral, unethical, or racist to focus on the tragedies here at home with more fervor and abhorrence than the tragedies abroad.

It's not only human nature, but it's also what the intent of the attack is.  The fact that we do focus on these attacks is more a testament to how effective they are at instilling fear than they are an indication of any moral weakness in ourselves. 


If these attacks are so terrifying, then we need to protect ourselves by closing our borders or vetting refugees better!


This is one of the few responses in which I can actually empathize: Personal and national security must be, and remain, high priorities of our nation's leadership.  However, we must acknowledge a couple of truths that surround this seemingly innocuous statement.

 

of the eight attackers, zero were refugees

Of the nearly 750,000 refugees who have taken up residence in the U.S. since 9/11, none have been arrested on charges of domestic terrorism.
— The Economist

The Paris attacks were carried out by foreigners with valid passports; refugees do not have passports and use different documentation.  In fact, there have been zero incidents of refugees committing terrorist attacks - which makes sense:  It's much easier to acquire a legal (or forge a convincing fake) passport than it is to acquire refugee status and infiltrate a country. Furthermore, radical Islam has a rich history of acquiring native citizens and radicalizing them to carry out terrorist attacks on their behalf. 

 

Most domestic terrorist attacks are "mass shootings"

Some of these are motivated by mental illness, others by the desire to stat a racial war, but so far only one recent mass shooting has been attributed to radicalization:  Fort Hood.  You are far more likely to be victimized by a "mass shooting" perpetrated by a U.S. citizen than you are a terrorist attack by a foreigner.

 

This attitude perpetuates institutionalized islamaphobia.

Let's be honest here:  The majority of time, when we think about "refugees" we are talking about people fleeing from Muslim countries.  When we talk about increasing security by rejecting refugees, we are talking about rejecting people from Muslim countries because they are from Muslim countries.  The result is an implied belief that people from Muslim countries, and those who follow the Islamic faith, are entirely comprised of violent people.

This belief has been, up until now, mostly implied within American culture.  After the attacks in Paris, we have elected officials (even those no one takes very seriously), stating that there is "no meaningful risk of Christians committing terrorist attacks"  and that the United States should "only admit Christian refugees."  The not-so-subtle implication here being that:  Christians are peaceful; Muslims are not.

Whether you fall on the side of generic paranoia ("refugees could be terrorists") or racist paranoia ("Muslim refugees could be terrorists"), the conversation of security vis a vis terrorists-as-refugees has always been a bit of a strawman, and has now become one that is driving the country towards the insinuation that all Muslims are violent. That insinuation does nothing but disenfranchise the 5-12 million Muslims citizens that live within our borders.

 

It shows a lack of understanding of why Terrorism occurs.

$15.14

It's an easy assumption to think that religious fervor begets radicals who become terrorists. However, anyone who sells you that line is either an idiot, or playing to partisan politics.  Radical Islam came to rise during the proxy war in Afghanistan between the United States and the USSR as a means for the United States to use theism to fight the secular communism in the battle for the minds of Afghani youth.

Fast forward several decades and tribalism, coupled with poor economic growth, numerous sanctions and wars, and a whole bunch of other quagmire-inducing fuckups on an international level, and we have numerous power vacuums.  Where power vacuums occur in rural segregated, disenfranchised, and under-educated pockets of isolated, warlords rise.  In this particular case (unlike the warlords of Africa), these warlords happened to be Islamic. The book Ghost Wars covers this topic in exacting detail, but you can check out a summary/review of it on my Goodreads.  Plus, turning them away just makes the problem worse.


Well, I still don't think we should trust Muslims!


If acknowledging that (a) we are legally required to accept refugees, (b) refugees do not commit terrorist acts - documented citizens / foreigners do, (c) we have no domestic issues that should prevent us from acting on the refugee crisis, and (d) our security measures didn't fail us vis-a-vis refugee resettlement, still allows you to demonize 1.7 billion people for the actions of a group of warlords, then you might be a racist.