What to do about Syrian refugees?

When frightened most people take or support steps to reduce risks to their security even at the expense of their liberties or other normally valued principles. Failure to do so might even be considered foolish if such steps might actually increase their safety. On the other hand, we regularly accept small risks in exchange for more interesting lives. The fact that 92 people died every day on average in the U.S. in traffic accidents in 2012 (about the same number who died from falling) has not kept most of us home, where we would have faced the risk that an average of 7 people per day died from home fires.

I am prompted to return to this subject (for an earlier blog see: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/are-we-becoming-a-nation-of-cowards/) by a recent Bloomberg poll in which the majority of adult American’s surveyed (53%) following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people said that “the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.” Leaving aside that this is an almost unnoticeable share of the more than 3 million Syrians who have fled their country and the 6.5 million displaced within Syria, and leaving aside the causes of the horrors from which they are fleeing, are we justified in refusing to accept refugees if it makes us safer? But before taking that on, we should have a clear understanding of whether it is likely to make us safer.

The concern, of course is that among these poor desperate souls, terrorist might pose as refugees in order to gain entry to the U.S. (or Europe) in order to wreak havoc. Despite best efforts this possibility cannot be ruled out any more that we can rule out dying by fire if we lock ourselves in our homes. But the recent Paris attacks were carried out by French and Belgian citizens, not refugees. “Then there was the curious case of the Syrian passport found near the body of a suicide bomber. Who takes a passport to a terrorist operation? Someone who wants it to be found.” (Frida Ghitis, CNN, November 18, 2015: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/18/opinions/ghitis-isis-self-destructive/index.html)

Gaining entry to the U.S. as a political refugee is a time consuming and difficult process. I have written a number of letters in support of applications by Iraqis and Afghans I have worked with and that is a very small part of what is required. Ms. Ghitis’ very interesting article continues: “The Paris operation had multiple objectives. The passport was a way of provoking the West to turn against refugees. The attack sought to provoke France, NATO and Europe to fight ISIS and the public to turn against the Muslim population and against refugees. ISIS wants a war between Islam and the rest of the world, with Muslims on its side, as a way of creating and expanding its so-called ‘caliphate.’ ISIS wants the world’s Muslims to feel they are at war with the modern world. It also wants to stop the flow of Syrians to the West, because it’s more than a little embarrassing that Muslims are fleeing its utopian Islamic ‘state.’”

In short, the risks of terrorist attacks (or attacks by deranged students at schools, etc.) in the U.S. come almost totally from our own citizens, just as do virtually all other crimes, violent or otherwise, in the U.S.  We call their perpetrators criminals and have vast and expensive programs to minimize such acts and to protect us to the extent compatible with our values from the crimes that nonetheless still take place. Aspects of these programs are the promotion of respect for the rights of others and for law and order and addressing and minimizing injustices toward individuals or groups that might provide the basis for grievances and hostility. For the rest we rely on the police to maintain order and arrest those who persist in crime (violent or otherwise). Crime and its perpetuators have always been and always will be with us. Some approaches to containing them have worked better than others and we should continuously strive to find the most effective balance between our freedom and our security.

So will ending the already negligible immigration of Syrians or Muslims improve our safety? If anything at all, it will worsen it by alienating and angering some of the almost 3 million Muslim’s already living here. The cry by some Governors and Presidential candidates and others to close the door to Muslims is much more likely to turn an American Muslim into a terrorist than to prevent one from entering the country from abroad. Thus these ugly cries by understandably frightened people fail on all counts (the promotion of American values and the promotion of security).

We need champions of the “Land of the free, home of the brave.” We have been the “Home of the free because of the brave;” not the brave young men and women sent off as cannon fodder to fight wars all over the place by deranged neocons but those brave enough to stand tall for the values of human respect and freedom that have (and hopefully still will) define America.

 

About wcoats

Dr. Warren L. Coats specializes in advising central banks on monetary policy, and in the development of their capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. He is retired from the International Monetary Fund, where, as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department, he led missions to over twenty countries. Before then, he served as Visiting Economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and to the World Bank, and was Assistant Prof of Economics at the Univ. of Virginia from 1970-75. Most recently he was Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq; an IMF consultant to the central banks of Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe; and a Deloitte/USAID advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review and until the end of 2013 was a member of the IMF program team for Afghanistan. His most recent book is entitled "One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
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4 Responses to What to do about Syrian refugees?

  1. Sergio Pombo says:

    Warren often i disagree with your blogs but I absolutely support the thrust of your reasoning here. I will add to your facts and reasoning that given the US current security and clearances threshold to accept foreign nationals, and possibly even higher to accept a limited number of displaced human beings, i would say that the risk of a terrorist act coming from this number is very manageable.

  2. Suki Kim says:

    Warren, your readers may be interested in this recorded conversation by Rev Michael Bogart. He provides some historical background which relates to Ms Ghitis’ quotes in paragraph 4 of your article. http://www.spiritualenrichmentcenter.org/media/SEC151115.mp3

  3. Bob Gregorio says:

    Thought provoking, thanks. Unless I’m mistaken isn’t this the first time that an enemy (ISIS) has stated that among refugees will be one of them with intention to kill many? The media report that ISIS has a track record of keeping its terror threats. It appears that vetting Syrians is difficult, with a lot of info unavailable. Not saying I have the answer, just contributing to the conversation.

  4. Jim Dunaway says:

    Warren, this is excellent! I agree 100%!

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