A total of 31 governors across the U.S. — 30 of them Republicans — have said that their states will refuse Syrian refugees as a result of security concerns caused by the Paris attacks, according to CNN. None of the attackers were Syrian refugees, but a Syrian passport found near the Stade de France, one of the sites of last week's attacks, made authorities question whether one of the attackers claimed to be a refugee to gain admittance into the European Union. Later evidence showed that he hadn't and that the name on the passport actually belonged to a months-dead Syrian soldier, meaning the passport found at the Stade de France was either fake or stolen and was placed there to cause alarm — a goal it successfully achieved. Why does ISIS want people to reject Syrian refugees?
If the West and Europe reject refugees, then ISIS will be more easily able to recruit people and punish those it believes are "traitors," among other goals the group has.
Experts within the U.S. and Europe all agree that one of ISIS main goals is to convince their followers and all Muslims that the West and Islam cannot live together in peace. Syrian-American political researcher Nader Atassi argued on CBC radio that many of ISIS' attacks, like the ones in Paris, are aimed at provoking Western and European countries and forcing them to engage in war. The exchange of fire between ISIS, the U.S., and France, in Syria, for example, then help to legitimize ISIS' claim that there's a deep divide between the ideals of people within the three countries and other parts of the world where Islam is not the predominant religion.
ISIS Wants To Demonize All Muslims And Now All Syrians
Religion is what ISIS claims is its guiding force. It attacks cities like Paris in the name of Islam in the hopes that it will become harder for the West and Europe to distinguish between radical Islamists or jihadists and Muslims who are not radical or violent. By blending that line, ISIS is helping to alienate Muslims everywhere. One of ISIS clearly stated goals is to eliminate the "gray zone" of coexistence between all Muslims and the West.
That's part of why ISIS brought the Syrian passport — fake or stolen, it doesn't matter — to the Stade de France. ISIS is aware that attacks in the name of Islam will not only make Westerners fear radicalists — they will make the West fearful of all Muslims, because so many Westerners only associate "Muslim" or "Islam" with the Sept. 11 attacks. In that same vein, ISIS hoped that one Syrian passport would make Europe and the West fearful of all Syrian refugees, who are fleeing their war torn country, but are also fleeing ISIS itself.
Rejecting Refugees Could Force Them To Join ISIS
Syrians fleeing the areas that ISIS controls reaffirms two ideas that hurt ISIS: first, that not everyone in the Middle East agrees with ISIS, so it's not a legitimate "state" like it's preferred name "Islamic State" suggests; and, second, that not all Muslims agree with ISIS. Both of these things undermine ISIS' legitimacy. If Europe and the West are welcoming to refugees, then ISIS has fewer recruits, and there are more people who combat the group's claim that all Muslims support a war with the West. But, when there's backlash against refugees in the U.S., ISIS gains power, according to Atassi on CBC:
ISIS believes they've set up this Islamic utopia, but all these Muslims are fleeing that Islamic utopia — so that's kind of embarrassing to them. So they think that by provoking this kind of backlash, maybe it will lead people to sympathize with them more. Because then these people that are being welcomed in Europe will think, well, actually maybe we're not being welcomed in Europe. Maybe ISIS' world view is right, that there is this fundamental difference between our world and the West.
If Rejected, Syrian Refugees Have Few Options
So, if the West and Europe reject refugees, then refugees are left with a few choices. They can stay in Syria and refuse to join ISIS, risking death at either the hands of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad or ISIS, or they can join the U.S. backed rebels fighting against al-Assad or join ISIS. Neither of these choices seems advantageous, especially to the Syrian families with children. Further, even if refugees choose to remain neutral, there are no "war rules" to keep them from being caught in the crossfire in Syria.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright penned an op-ed for TIME in which she called out U.S. governors who said they would reject refugees. She said the issue was deeply personal for her, "because it was 67 years ago last week that my family and I arrived in the U.S. to begin a new life in exile from our native Czechoslovakia." She said that the U.S. should focus on defeating ISIS, supporting humanitarian efforts in Syria, and establishing "a political settlement" eventually, according to TIME. But, she also said that making decisions "by fear, not by the facts," would "squander our moral authority and hurt our international credibility," according to her op-ed:
Our enemies have a plan. They want to divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between the defenders and attackers of Islam. By making Syrian refugees the enemy, we are playing into their hands. Instead, we need to clarify that the real choice is between those who think it is OK to murder innocent people and those who think it is wrong. By showing that we value every human life, we can make clear to the world where we stand.
Yes, the U.S. knows the face of terror, and, yes, taking refugees from a country partially controlled by ISIS is dangerous. But the U.S. has a strict screening program in place to vet refugees. Abandoning that and giving into fear would only fuel ISIS' narrative that Muslims and the West cannot live in peace, and we know so much better than that.