Making sense of Syrian refugees

How do you balance compassion and rational self interest?

Not an easy game to play, and virtually no one talking about the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, and what to do about the Syrian war, ISIS, and millions of refugees displaced by that war, is talking sense.

A Syrian refugee carries a bag she received as aid for the winter from the United Nations refugee agency northern Lebanon on Wednesday. Omar Ibrahim | Reuters

A Syrian refugee carries a bag she received as aid for the winter from the United Nations refugee agency northern Lebanon on Wednesday. Omar Ibrahim | Reuters

Though entirely justified in expressing skepticism about Syrian refugees in the United States, the right has taken legitimate concern about the security situation presented by a mass influx of refugees into the United States, and the potential for infiltration by terrorist sleeper cells from ISIS, and gone entirely overboard.

The Republican presidential candidates, for instance, abandoned all useful rhetoric and engaged in a ridiculous game of one-upmanship to prove who among them was the most skeptical of refugees post-Paris. This culminated with Chris Christie saying he wouldn’t accept a five-year-old child from Syria into the United States.

Predictably, of course, the left went into even more incomprehensibly stupid (and predictable) directions as well. The mass slaughter at the Bataclan wasn’t even over yet before liberals began chastising anyone for even mentioning refugees in connection with the attack.

Then, of course, we had to sit through sanctimonious lectures about how those opposed to refugee acceptance were racists who are morally equivalent to those who denied Jewish refugees safe haven in World War II.

Naturally, some Democratic lawmakers — like Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky — have decided that this horrendous tragedy, perpetrated by Islamo-fascist terrorists intent on destroying the west, is a great way to make a point about gun control.

So let’s do something useful and try to bring something resembling rational thought to the situation.

First, for anyone who is interested in learning more about the conflict in Syria, and what ISIS wants, I suggest a short video titled “Syria’s war: A 5-minute history” from Vox, and an article from The Atlantic titled, “What ISIS Really Wants.” In the aftermath of Paris, both have been highly shared on social media by liberals and conservatives, so you know they offer generally insightful information untainted by partisanship.

Whatever the causes of the war, and whatever ISIS truly wants, the fact of the matter remains that millions of people from the region are fleeing the hellhole that is Syria today, and millions of them are ending up in Europe.

In the United States, we are currently debating the wisdom of resettling 10,000 refugees from Syria. In Germany alone, there will be an estimated 1.5 million asylum seekers in 2015.

At least one of the Paris terrorists appears to have entered Europe embedded in the avalanche of Syrians fleeing war. This isn’t much of a surprise, as ISIS has itself been open about the fact that they will use means such as this to smuggle jihadis into Europe.

Let’s be honest here, it is not inappropriate to be concerned about the influx of refugees, into Europe or to America. The problem isn’t the refugees. It never was and never will be. We’ve heard an unending commentary suggesting that “no refugee has committed a terrorist act” after coming to the country.

True. But also not the point. The point — and this is much more true of Europe than the United States — is that the mass refugee resettlement, in short and explosively large waves, is a veil by which non-refugees will cloak their entry to commit acts of terrorism.

Why? Because there is simply no way of truly vetting millions of people who are flooding into your country the way a traditional asylum program would.

Here in the United States, the problem is less threatening, with a much smaller number of refugees — again, 10,000 — being allowed in. But that does not mean the potential threat is non-existent.

Governors and senators — of both parties by the way, including most recently Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate — are right to register skepticism about the vetting process and importing Syrian refugees into the United States, given the inept leadership of the president on all issues related to Syria, ISIS and immigration broadly.

They should demand transparency and accountability in the asylum program before these folks are allowed into the country.

But should they be allowed to come? Should we have a refugee program, and should Syrians fleeing death at the hands of ISIS be let in? The answer to that is yes. We are a compassionate nation, and refugees — legitimate refugees — will be forever changed by that compassion, and tasting their first real taste of freedom.

However, we cannot responsibly do that before the threat to our national security is taken more seriously by this administration, and the behavior of the president since the Paris bombing has done nothing to convince me that will happen any time soon.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.