Both John and Ann Laurie have touched on the domestic, US political response to Syrian refugees in the wake of Friday’s attacks in Paris. And in the article John cites there is a reference to the suspicion that the Syrian passports found with the attackers were forged/fake. That was actually confirmed yesterday. And the Egyptian passport found at the scene belonged to one of the victims, an Egyptian national, who was attending the match at the Stade National. It has also been suggested that part of the motivation for the attacks, specifically for the targeting, was that it would increase suspicion of refugees, as well as push public opinion and political elites to reject Syrian refugees.
From a strategic viewpoint, this makes perfect sense for ISIS. Part of their argument is that only Muslims who accept tawheed, the radical unity of the Deity, are really Muslims and the only place one can really be a Muslim is one ruled by Muslims who accept tawheed (these Muslims are called muwaheedun) for those who accept tawheed. Moreover, ISIS’s recruiting argument to support this doctrinal/theological/ideological contention is that true Muslims are not welcome and not safe anywhere else. By casting suspicion on Muslim refugees, whether they are from Syria or other states, and enflaming public and political passions against accepting refugees in specific and Muslims in general, they are able to create a self fulfilling prophecy. What ISIS wants is for the US and other states to clamp down on admitting refugees. And they want threats against and actual violence against Muslim citizens of these states to increase. A self fulfilling/self sustaining effort.
But only if we actually play into ISIS’s hands. ISIS’s strategy can only be successful if we give them what they want. They do not have the ways and means to achieve their ends – they need us to provide them for them! This was also the case with bin Laden. If you go back and look at bin Laden’s stated goals in his Letter to America, you’ll see a list of what he wanted to achieve. Click over, read or reread them, and see just how many of his goals were achieved. And then ask yourself how many were only achievable if we overreacted and provided the ways and means for him to achieve his ends. Terrorism, whether its ISIS or al Qaeda or some group not yet in existence, is not an existential threat for western states and societies. The reactions and responses that these groups’ actions try to evoke through the use of terrorism in western states and societies is, however, a potential existential threat. Combatting terrorism can only be successful if it is done on our terms, not those set by and beneficial to the terrorists themselves.
* The featured image are internally displaced Iraqi children between Jisr Diyala and Abu Thayla, Mada’in Qada, Iraq. I took this picture, as well as several others in the summer of 2008. We had stopped to provide their parents with some humanitarian assistance supplies: basic dry staples and sundries and clothes and some toys for the children. They had fled from north of Baghdad and were squatting in a building at an industrial site.