Terrorism, refugees and Donald Trump

Finding a sensible (and safe) way to move forward

by Harold Rhode and Richard Kemp

Article published in The Washington Times, 25 September 2016

Hilary Clinton’s refugee plan is an open invitation for Radical Islam’s unyielding nature to run roughshod over American culture.

It’s by now clear that at least some of the perpetrators of last weekend’s spate of attacks harboured extremist views and sought inspiration in the work of Islamic State and al Qaeda (ISIS praised the Minnesota stabber, and the New York bombing suspect travelled to jihadi hotbeds in Afghanistan and Pakistan).

This is a clarifying reminder that the presidential election must be a referendum on Hilary Clinton’s failed approach to the struggle of radical Islam, and specifically a pressing matter at hand: her plan to admit 65,000 Syrian refugees — a 550 percent increase from the 10,000 Syrian refugees supported by the Obama administration.

It pains us greatly to see the crush of humanity fleeing the violence engulfing the Middle East. We’re also concerned about the security and stability of key American allies. Germany — a country roughly half the size of Texas — has already taken in some 1 million asylum seekers. America must find ways to help. The Clinton proposal, however, is naive and dangerous.

Of course, President Obama bears some responsibility for the turmoil. Some of this started with his hasty withdrawal from the region. It spread with Secretary Clinton’s refusal to punish the perpetrators of the September 11 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, and her failure to intervene effectively in the subsequent collapse of that country. Filling the vacuum, terrorists have targeted ethnic and religious minorities they consider apostates, destroyed archaeological and sacred religious sites, and advanced a form of Islam whose cruelty knows no bounds.

So what do about refugees?

It’s arguably harder in Europe than in the United States. From an Islamist perspective, immigration has become a mechanism to transform a national entity into a political minority through territorial displacement and the undermining of values — guerrilla warfare by another name. Where Muslim immigrant communities have settled, an increasing number — France and Britain immediately come to mind — have insisted on enacting Islamic customs, legislation and social behaviour. Whether grown organically or by design, parallel societies have taken hold — often resulting in a sense of helplessness for the indigenous population, especially women.

America’s tradition has been a different one. Its track record of assimilation has been strong, and the numbers of refugees presently being discussed is small. But none of this should speak against vigilance, wisdom and common sense.

One obvious problem is security. Even with the proper process and patience it will be virtually impossible to weed out from the truly benighted each and every terror operative. As James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, noted last year, ‘We don’t obviously put it past the likes of Islamic State to infiltrate operatives among these refugees.’ Indeed, the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando are tragic reminders of the group’s magnetic effect on violent residents of the United States.

For this reason, we agree with Donald Trump, that the United States ought to admit men, women, and children — but only after undergoing a robust vetting process. While this will not completely eliminate the threat of infiltration, it will substantially diminish it. Moreover, it will allow the United States to demonstrate to the international community that it’s actually Muslims who are suffering the most under Islamic State treachery, zealotry and barbarism. It’s a point we can’t make enough. We need more Muslim allies in the fight.

But there’s a less obvious yet equally formidable problem few are willing to talk about. Polling in Muslim-majority countries reveals that large percentages of Muslims who reject violence still adhere to beliefs that are inimical to liberal, democratic norms. In this sense, the refugee crisis is not only a dire humanitarian crisis; it also represents an immense cultural challenge for the West as a whole.

And yes, religion plays a role. In our Judeo-Christian tradition, we’ve come to believe in rule of law, accountable government, tolerance, pluralism and respect for diversity. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to engage those among us of different traditions who reject democratic principles and behaviors. We must return to, and evolve standards for, citizenship and requirements for those otherwise living in America and the West.

Let’s take in those suffering from war and calamity, in a way that sensibly protects the safety and security of our own citizens. And let’s also be clear to those who wish to stay — and here we can learn from Europe’s mistakes — that a future in a free society is an honour to be earned, not a gift bestowed.

Harold Rhode served as an analyst covering Iranian and Middle Eastern affairs at the Office of the US Secretary of Defense. Col. Richard Kemp was commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and headed the international terrorism team at the Joint Intelligence Committee of the British Cabinet Office.

Image: Gage Skidmore