Want to help ISIS recruit? Treat all Muslims as potential terrorists

Richard Maass writes: Since the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, many U.S. leaders have unleashed discriminatory rhetoric in the name of counterterrorism. Thirty-one governors said that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states. Jeb Bush suggested that refugees should be allowed into the United States if “you can prove you’re a Christian.” Donald Trump said that he would “strongly consider” shutting down American mosques and that he wants “surveillance of certain mosques if that’s okay.” Claiming “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Ted Cruz criticized the Obama administration “because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this.”

Of course, most religions — including Christianity — have been manipulated to inspire or excuse terrorism. And people of most nationalities — including Americans — have committed terrorist acts. So the critical question is not whether the Islamic State has a national or religious aspect; a great deal of terrorism does. The question is: Will policies that discriminate against people on the basis of nationality or religion help or hurt efforts to counter the Islamic State’s terrorist threat?

Many excellent scholars — both before and since 9/11 — have produced research that tells us about the relationship between discrimination and counterterrorism.

Here’s what we know. To be most effective, counterterrorism policies need to make an explicit distinction between the individuals who genuinely threaten others with terrorism, on the one hand, and on the other, the broader populations those terrorists claim to represent. Counterterrorism efforts — especially using force — should narrowly target only the former, as much as possible. [Continue reading…]

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