The Paris attacks carried out by ISIS are being used to sustain the Republican Party’s nativist, anti-immigrant discourse. Presidential candidates and several governors want to close the door on 10,000 Syrian refugees for fear of terrorist infiltrators. This type of reaction does nothing but feed internal fears, granting a victory to terrorists, whose goal is precisely to shake the feeling of safety in free societies.
The events in France remind us of the vulnerabilities of an open system in the face of religious, apocalyptic extremism promoted by people who attack with the zeal of kamikazes. It will require a great effort on the part of security and intelligence agencies ‒ while respecting civil liberties ‒ as well as the public’s awareness without going into panic. It also requires balance in political leadership.
The latter is what we do not see in the Republican presidential debate, in which most candidates reject President Obama’s proposal to accept refugees. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say that they would only accept Christians, even though the most persecuted are the Shiite Muslims. Marco Rubio has changed his mind and now says he does not agree with letting refugees in because he is not sure that their background will be adequately examined. Finally, Donald Trump exaggerated the number of refugees to a quarter of a million people.
They also took this a chance to reiterate the need to reinforce border security to avoid terrorist infiltrators, a recurring theme in this debate.
What is conveniently being ignored is the fact that most attackers are neither immigrants or refugees but Europeans, and that there are characteristics unique to France in this particular situation. Additionally, unlike Europe ‒ which lives under a spontaneous avalanche of Syrian refugees, ‒ the background of those coming into the U.S. would be scrutinized before they reached the country.
It is sad to see that the reaction to terrorism is to build border walls and ignore a humanitarian crisis out of fear. Terrorism triumphs when it succeeds in intimidating governments and civilians. Leadership is shown by rising to challenges posed by the situation, not by taking advantage of them to feed existing fear and resentment against immigrants and foreigners among the electorate.