Last night in a Facebook PM session, my friend Mohammed told me that he recently overheard his kids arguing in Turkish. His son’s nine, his daughter, I believe, is five. They’ve been living in Turkey for no more than two years, and Arabic — as all the world can now agree — is a fine idiom for delivering what the Supreme Court called “vigorous epithet and hyperbole.” (Even I know a couple of terms that should only be bandied about by gynecologists.) Yet here these sprogs are, assimilating. They’ll be rooting for Beşiktaş before long.
With the Paris massacre now several days old and Parisians already sending back our prayers — and expat Americans telling us that our vicarious suffering is mauvais ton — I would like, without sniveling or getting all PC about it, to make yet another plug for Syrian refugees. As of this writing, the governors of 24 US states are refusing them entry. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal has complained, “It is irresponsible and severely disconcerting to place individuals, who may have ties to ISIS, in a state without the state’s knowledge or involvement.”
Prudence, a sense of responsibility to constituents, and pushback against the federal government are all good in themselves. Whether or not the Syrian passport found near the body of a Paris suicide bomber had really been issued by the Syrian government, and whether or not it bore the bomber’s real name, it’s clear the EU’s swamped system has created angles for forgery artists and thieves. Certainly ISIS has the cunning to exploit these angles, or at least to try.
But here we enjoy an enormous advantage over the EU, namely, our great distance from Syria, and the thorough vetting process it’s enabled us to impose on those seeking asylum. In order to enter the US, all refugees must obtain a referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. From there, they must submit to an in-person interview, and pass a background check involving the National Counterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, and the Department of Homeland Security. Jumping through all these hoops takes from 18 to 24 months.
Since 1980, not one refugee to the United States has committed an act of terrorism. A friend of mine remarked to me recently that doing the right thing is rarely risk-free. Fair enough, but given refugees’ track record to date, admitting this latest batch may be about as close as it ever gets.
There’s also the fact that ISIS, with all its wiles, will find or poke holes in any system. Failing other means, it’ll recruit agents from afar. By now, the case of the late, unlamented Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihad John, is well known, along with ISIS’s catalog of online grooming tricks. Non-Muslims have also proven susceptible. In her book Life After ISIS, Dounia Bouzar, an anthropologist and deprogramming expert employed by the French government, described how ISIS recruiters try to ensnare altruistic, middle-class French youngsters with no Muslim background by evoking “the myth of Mother Theresa” and “the Myth of Lancelot.”
Bouzar points out that the recruiters were born in France and understand French culture with a native’s intimacy. They must know it better than many Muslims recruited from Western countries know — or appreciate — the culture of Mesopotamian Arabs. A few months ago, Omar Hussain, the supermarket employee who abandoned Morrisons and High Wycombe for Syria and jihad, posted on his blog that he had to treat his Syrian comrades “like primary school students.” Yes, indeed, for Omar Sahib, the natives were too cheeky by half, especially when it came to footwear:
In the West, it is common knowledge to walk out of a room wearing the same pair of shoes that you wore while entering the room. However here in [Syria], our Syrian brothers have a very peculiar philosophy whereby they believe that everyone can share each other’s footwear, irrespective of foot size,” he continues…Someone who is a size 40 will casually walk out the room wearing your footwear even though you are a size 44, and strangely he may not even realise.
For he himself has said it. But it’s mainly to our credit — the West’s, that is. Thin and decadent as our culture has become, it does retain the power to hook even those who are consciously hostile to it. Omar Hussain may have more in common with Farhana Khan, who wrote proudly in The Independent of being “pansexual,” than either of them would care to admit.
None of this matters if security is the only issue. However, it should bring some relief to any Americans worried about the country’s cultural or demographic future. Determining what America is that the Middle East isn’t, and striving to preserve those differences, are perfectly laudable goals. However, once we convince ourselves that we can keep those lines clear only by keeping refugees out, we’re already sunk. We’re admitting we’ve grown so feeble that the next gust of humanity could knock us over.
Granted, given the recent upheavals on college campuses, it takes a monstrous act of will not to think 20 years down the road to imagine the children of these refugees reading us the riot act for cultural insensitivity. Well, as Secretary of State Kerry used to say, I have a plan. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad steps down, make him president of Yale. If the head of his mukhabarat follows him, send him to take over the University of Missouri. I have every confidence they’ll be able to teach the brats what real “policing” looks like.