Europe’s many-headed security crisis – a challenge to rival the Cold War

By Umut Korkut, Glasgow Caledonian University

The downing of a Russian jet on November 24 over Turkey’s border with Syria is indicative of the security challenges that Europe faces. To deal with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the refugee crisis, Europe needs to neutralise Islamic State and stabilise Syria to stop the flow of refugees. That means that the EU, Turkey and Russia need to respond coherently to Syria.

The stakes are unimaginably high – with the EU already divided internally over its policy on refugees, failure in Syria risks making things worse. That could undermine the EU at a time when the terrorist threat needs the union to be as tight-knit as possible.

First, the EU’s internal situation. Since the surge of refugees over the summer, the new position of Europe’s increasingly strident right – particularly in eastern Europe and Russia – is that people’s skin colour determines their inclination to terrorism. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, recently said that “all terrorists are immigrants”. Led also by Poland – which is taking an increasingly hard line on migrants – the conservative right in the region wants to draw a boundary that is white, native and Christian on one side and non-white, non-Christian and immigrant on the other.

The sad fact is that the most homogenous countries have been the least able and willing to cope with the influx of refugees – and this has had substantial knock-on effects. When Croatia shipped newcomers to the Hungarian and Slovenian borders within hours of arrival in October, Hungary responded by extending its notorious fence to close the border between these two EU members. Meanwhile, Slovenia transported all its new arrivals to the Austrian border, which increased the disproportionate burden that Austria and Germany had assumed on behalf of the newer EU members.

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Donald Trump, meet a Syrian refugee named Heba

Nicholas Kristof writes: Ben Carson has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Donald Trump says that he would send them back.

Who are these Syrian refugee monsters who terrify American politicians?

Meet Heba, a frightened, desperate 20-year-old woman who dreams of being an artist and has just made a perilous escape from territory controlled by the Islamic State in northern Syria.

She was detained two months ago with her sister by Islamic State enforcers because her sister’s baby girl had too short a skirt — even though the baby was just 3 months old.

“That was crazy,” Heba said, shaking her head. “This was an infant!”

Heba says she and her sister argued that infant girls should have a little leeway in showing skin, and eventually the family was let off with a warning.

But Heba, strong-willed and self-confident, perhaps had been too outspoken or too sarcastic, and the police then cast a critical eye on her clothing. She was covering even her hands and face, but the authorities complained that her abaya cloak wasn’t loose enough to turn her into a black puff that concealed her form. The police detained her for hours until her family bailed her out by paying a $10 fine.

Heba was lucky, for other women have been flogged for violating clothing rules. Her sister saw a woman stoned to death after being accused of adultery.

“If I were wearing this,” Heba told me, pointing down at the tight jeans she was wearing as we spoke, “my head would come off.” She offered a hollow laugh.

I spoke to her after she left her mother and siblings behind in Syria (her father died years ago of natural causes) and fled with a handful of relatives on a perilous journey to Turkey, then on a dangerously overcrowded boat to this Greek island. I took Heba and her relatives to a dinner of pizza — Western food is banned by the Islamic State — and as we walked to the pizzeria she made a game of pointing out all the passers-by who would be decapitated by ISIS for improper dress, consorting with the opposite sex or sundry other offenses.

“It’s a million percent difference,” she exulted of life in the West. “Once you leave that area, you feel so good. Your whole body relaxes.”

Americans are understandably afraid of terrorism after the Paris attacks, and that fear is channeled at Syrian refugees. So pandering politicians portray the refugees as menaces whom the vetting process is unable to screen out, and Americans by nearly two to one oppose President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrians over a year.

In fact, despite the impressions left by American politicians and by the Islamic State, Syrians are in general more educated and middle class than many other people in the region, and the women more empowered. Heba’s aspirations to be an artist aren’t unusual. [Continue reading…]


Why is AIPAC silent on Syrian refugees?

Peter Beinart writes: The last two weeks have brought a festival of American ugliness. Since the attacks in Paris, virtually every Republican governor has declared their state off-limits to Syrian refugees. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz has called for allowing in Syrians only if they’re Christian. Donald Trump has mused about registering American Muslims and falsely accused them of celebrating 9/11. The bigotry and cowardice are jaw dropping. France, which lost 130 lives on November 13, has nonetheless committed to accepting 30,000 desperate Syrians. Barack Obama wants to accept 10,000 and the Republican Party has erupted in nativist hysteria.

In this dark time, the organized American Jewish community has been a source of light. In 2011, during another spasm of Islamophobia, the Anti-Defamation League shamed itself by opposing the building of an Islamic Center near the site of the World Trade Center. This time, by contrast, it has joined with nine other American Jewish groups to pen a letter to Congress declaring that, “To turn our back on refugees would be to betray our nation’s core values.” Even the right-leaning Orthodox Union has declared that, “While security concerns must be paramount, our focus as a nation should be on ‘getting to yes’” and accepting Syrian refugees.

Why is an American Jewish establishment so untroubled by the denial of Palestinian rights in Israel so concerned about America’s treatment of Syrian refugees? Because human beings think analogically. When new events arise we scan our brains for similar events in the past and then use the lessons of those past events to determine how to respond. If the last time you ate carrot cake you got sick, you’re unlikely to eat anything that looks like carrot cake again.

For American Jewish leaders, the most powerful analogy is the Holocaust. But it contains two, radically different, lessons. Lesson number one is to be on the lookout for Nazis. Thus, when Iranian leaders call for the elimination of Israel, American Jewish leaders assume that, like Adolf Hitler, they will use any weapons at their disposal, no matter the risk, to murder Jews. Lesson number two is that anyone suffering a Holocaust—or some lesser persecution–deserves help, as long as they are not Nazis themselves.

The first lesson is tribal; the second is universal. The first inclines Jewish organizations to take a hard line against Iranian’s nuclear program and Palestinian nationalism. The second inclines them toward empathy for Syrians fleeing persecution and gays and lesbians who want the right to marry.

This summer, during the Iran fight, most American Jewish organizations activated the right sides of their brain. Now, this fall, during the Syrian refugee controversy, they’re activating their left. And in the process, they’re showing compassion when it’s needed most.

But there’s a problem. While the organizations that petitioned Congress on behalf of Syrian refugees respond to both halves of the Holocaust analogy, they don’t wield much power in Washington. They’re far less influential than AIPAC, which focuses only on the first. AIPAC leaders invoke the Holocaust constantly, but only to imply that Israel’s enemies are Nazis, never to suggest that non-Jews suffering oppression deserve help. That’s why AIPAC won’t weigh in on Syrian refugees. It’s also why AIPAC has repeatedly hosted the Reverend John Hagee, even though he’s said Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because the city was hosting a gay pride rally. For AIPAC, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Hagee supports Benjamin Netanyahu against Israel’s Nazi-like foes.

People in the American Jewish community take this for granted. But they shouldn’t. In the mid-twentieth century, the idea that American Jewry’s most powerful communal institution would ignore everything except Israel would have struck Jewish leaders as perverse. Back then, before AIPAC became the powerhouse it is today, America’s most influential Jewish groups cared about Israel. But they cared about civil rights and civil liberties inside the United States even more. J.J. Goldberg notes in his book, Jewish Power, that in the 1940s American Jewish Congress employed more lawyers fighting racial segregation than either the NAACP or the Department of Justice. [Continue reading…]


Trump’s power base as a demagogue rests on this: racism and lying


A demagogue /ˈdɛməɡɒɡ/ (from French “demagogue”, derived in turn from the Greek “demos” = people/folk and the verb “ago” = carry/manipulate thus “people’s manipulator”) or rabble-rouser is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower socioeconomic classes in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness. Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.

Following one of Donald Trump’s latest examples of blatant lying — through a sixfold exaggeration of the likelihood that a white person gets murdered by a black person — Daniel W. Drezner writes: Now we’re at the point in this campaign when Trump’s defense for this — and those of his supporters — will be predictable. Trump was just RTing someone else’s lie, so it’s not really his fault. Trump’s MO on this ever since he’s become a candidate has been a simple five-step plan:

  1. Say/tweet/retweet outrageous thing;
  2. Dominate the next news cycle;
  3. Bully the media that focus on the outrageous statement;
  4. Backtrack/claim misinterpretation;
  5. Sustain polling advantage.

[Continue reading…]

Michael Tesler writes: Political commentators have asserted for months that Donald Trump’s dominance of the Republican presidential field is fueled by his anti-immigrant rhetoric. As Thomas Edsall put it:

Donald Trump’s success is no surprise. The public and the press have focused on his defiant rejection of mannerly rhetoric, his putting into words of what others think privately. But the more important truth is that a half-century of Republican policies on race and immigration have made the party the home of an often angry and resentful white constituency — a constituency that is now politically mobilized in the face of demographic upheaval.

This is a very plausible hypothesis, but one with little comprehensive evidence to date. Now, thanks to a collection of survey data from YouGov, we can show how, and how much, voters’ concern about immigration has helped Trump. [Continue reading…]


Canada to turn away single men as part of Syrian refugee resettlement plan

AFP reports: Canada will accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away.

Since the Paris attacks launched by Syria-linked jihadis, a plan by the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to fast-track the intake of 25,000 refugees by year’s end has faced growing criticism in Canada.

Details of the plan will be announced Tuesday but Canada’s ambassador to Jordan confirmed that refugees from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey will be flown to Canada from Jordan starting 1 December. [Continue reading…]


The refugees and the new war

Michael Ignatieff writes: According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, since September 11 the US has taken in 784,000 refugees and of these only three have been arrested subsequently on terrorism-related charges.

Fear makes for bad strategy. A better policy starts by remembering a better America. In January 1957, none other than Elvis Presley sang a gospel tune called “There Will Be Peace in the Valley” on The Ed Sullivan Show to encourage Americans to welcome and donate to Hungarian refugees. After the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam, President Ford ordered an interagency task force to resettle 130,000 Vietnamese refugees; and later Jimmy Carter found room in America for Vietnamese boat people. In 1999, in a single month, the US processed four thousand Kosovar refugees through Fort Dix, New Jersey.

These examples show what can be done if the president authorizes rapid refugee clearance in US military installations, and if the US were to process and repatriate refugees directly from the frontline states of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. As Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative has been urging since September, direct processing in the camps themselves will cut down on deaths by drowning in the Mediterranean. If Europe and the United States show them a safe way out, refugees won’t take their chances by paying smugglers using rubber dinghies.

The Obama administration should say yes to the UNHCR appeal to settle 65,000 refugees on an expedited basis. Refugee agencies across the United States — as well as religious communities from all faiths — have said they will take the lead in resettlement and integration. If the Liberal government in Canada can take in 25,000 refugees directly from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and process their security clearance at Canadian army bases, the US can do the same with 65,000.

Taking 65,000 people will only relieve a small portion of a refugee flow of 4.1 million, but it is an essential political gesture designed to encourage other allies — Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina — and other immigrant countries to do their part. The strategic goal is to relieve the pressure on the three frontline states. Refugee resettlement by the US also acknowledges a fact that the refugees themselves are trying to tell us: even if peace eventually comes to their tormented country, there will be no life for all of them back home.

Once the US stops behaving like a bemused bystander, watching a neighbor trying to put out a fire, it can then put pressure on allies and adversaries to make up the shortfall in funding for refugee programs run by the UNHCR and the World Food Program. One of the drivers of the exodus this summer was a sudden reduction in refugee food aid caused by shortfalls in funding. Even now these agencies remain short of what they need to provide shelter and food to the people flooding out of Syria.

Now that ISIS has brought down a Russian aircraft over Sinai and bombed civilians in Paris, Beirut, and Ankara, the US needs to use its refugee policy to help stabilize its allies in the region. The presumption that it can sit out the refugee crisis makes a hugely unwise bet on the stability of Jordan, where refugees amount to 25 percent of the total population; and Lebanon, where largely Sunni refugees, who have hardly any camps, are already destabilizing the agonizingly fragile multiconfessional order; and Turkey, where the burdens of coping with nearly two million refugees are driving the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan regime into the arms of Vladimir Putin. [Continue reading…]


The U.S. Holocaust Museum urges lawmakers not to turn their backs on Syrian refugees

Quartz reports: On Monday, Nov. 19, mere hours after legislators voted to pass a bill making it even harder for Syrian refugees to seek refuge in the United States, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum released the following statement:

Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.

The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.

It’s a statement perhaps reflective of growing sentiments among North America’s Jewish communities; a recollection of policies that kept those fleeing terror and persecution in Nazi-occupied Europe from settling down in the United States. [Continue reading…]


Republican Ben Carson compares Syrian refugees to ‘rabid dogs’

Reuters reports: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Thursday likened refugees fleeing violence in Syria to “rabid dogs,” and said that allowing them into the United States would put Americans at risk.

“If there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson, a front-runner in some opinion polls, said Thursday at a campaign event in Mobile, Alabama.

“By the same token, we have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly,” the retired neurosurgeon said, criticizing President Barack Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees within a year. [Continue reading…]


‘People become outraged, they cry, and they do nothing’ — how compassion mutated into fear


Trump receptive to idea that Muslims in the U.S. be treated like Jews in Nazi Germany — ‘security is going to rule’

Yahoo News reports: After Paris, Trump said “security is going to rule” in the United States, in order to take on what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism.” America has currently agreed to take in 10,000 refugees from the ISIS stronghold in Syria. However, if he is elected, Trump said he would deport any Syrian refugees allowed to enter this country under President Obama.

“They’re going to be gone. They will go back. … I’ve said it before, in fact, and everyone hears what I say, including them, believe it or not,” Trump said of the refugees. “But if they’re here, they have to go back, because we cannot take a chance. You look at the migration, it’s young, strong men. We cannot take a chance that the people coming over here are going to be ISIS-affiliated.”

Yahoo News has reported that about half of the approximately 2,000 refugees from Syria who have come to the U.S. so far have been children. Another quarter are more than 60 years old. The Obama administration has maintained that the extensive screening process for these refugees makes the program safe to maintain — not to mention a reflection of America’s core values.

But Trump doesn’t buy it. He also has concerns about the larger Muslim community here in the U.S., he said.

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.” [Continue reading…]


Anti-refugee stance by Republican politicians is alienating some of their own supporters

Jason Boyett writes: Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), welcome strangers (Matthew 25:40), and show mercy to those in need (Luke 10:25-37). No doubt these teachings apply to families on the run from Isis.

These passages represent only a sliver of biblical teaching on the topic, and the Christians I know don’t just believe these verses, but act on them.

Consider my conservative Republican family. We live in Amarillo, Texas, a highly religious, conservative stronghold in a very red state. Amarillo also has an abnormally high ratio of new refugees to residents – higher than any Texas city. What’s more, many in the city are on the front-lines of welcoming those fleeing war or persecution. You wouldn’t know this from the political stances of the Republican lawmakers claiming to represent Texas, or Amarillo, as their constituents.

My mother and mother-in-law teach English to refugees and immigrants at my childhood Southern Baptist church. Both women love interacting with these foreign families, many of whom are Muslims from war-torn nations like Iraq, Iran and Sudan. They have shared meals together. They have visited these families in the hospital. They have become friends.

My brother, who runs a religious nonprofit, mentors youth at apartment projects across Amarillo. In recent years, the resident base at these complexes has shifted from low-income minorities to immigrant and refugee families. This makes my brother one of the first Americans they meet – and definitely one of the first they trust.

On a typical weekday after school, he might lead activities for 15 children and hear 15 different languages. He tells me the Muslim families in particular work harder than anyone else and are more welcoming to him than anyone else. They have never made him feel unsafe.

Unfortunately, the politicians claiming to represent us don’t feel that way. [Continue reading…]


McCain tells fellow Republicans: ‘Refugees are not the problem — they are the symptom of the problem’

The Hill reports: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned his fellow Republicans on Wednesday not to place too much emphasis on Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, calling their focus misguided.

“I believe the overwhelming focus on the refugee program in recent days is misplaced,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a written statement. “I especially encourage my fellow Republicans to recognize that refugees are not the problem — they are the symptom of the problem.”

Since attacks credited to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killed at least 129 people on Friday, Republicans have called for pausing — or in some cases stopping altogether — the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. [Continue reading…]


Charlie Rose: Analysis of the Paris attacks — Michael Weiss, Bernard-Henri Lévy, et al


Now is the time to show solidarity with refugees fleeing from terrorism and tyranny

Ian Birrell writes: we share common cause with most refugees flooding to Europe from Iraq and Syria, who are driven by desire to share our freedoms after jihadis helped devastate their homelands. Those terrible events in France happen almost daily in Iraq and Syria, which is why families risk their lives to get on boats across the Mediterranean (although death is more likely to come from the Syrian regime some westerners suddenly seek to aid). The refugees I have met in Germany, Greece and Italy this year loathe Isis with bitter intensity – and the feeling is mutual, since the fanatics dislike those leaving their domain for undermining their proclamations of a paradisiacal caliphate.

There are justified, if regrettable, questions over the future of the Schengen area. But those calling for Europe to shut exterior borders and reject refugees should ask why people board lethal and overloaded boats. European Union borders are closed already, but desperate people resort to desperate measures. Shut off one route and another opens up; the only change is that those running from torture, war and repressionwill be fleeced still further by smugglers, and forced to take even more dangerous journeys. This can be seen already with the sinking of boats used to carry refugees; trafficking gangs simply switched to older, less seaworthy vessels and overcrowded inflatables.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, is right to say that if one attacker arrived masquerading as an asylum seeker then he is “a criminal and not a refugee”. None of the 750,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11 have been arrested on domestic terror charges. But isolationists and misanthropes in Europe and north America are using the Paris massacres to argue against offering sanctuary. Such is the Orwellian nature of debate, some say a British government that sought to end support for rescue missions to pull drowning people from the sea is more compassionate than a German government struggling to offer sanctuary to huge numbers of refugees. [Continue reading…]


Don’t ‘scapegoat’ Syrian refugees, Catholic bishops and evangelicals say

CNN reports: Two of the country’s largest and most influential religious groups, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, are urging the United States not to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees after the deadly terrorist attack in Paris last Friday.

“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS,” Leith Anderson, NAE president, said on Tuesday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has called for a “pause” in the U.S. program accepting Syrian refugees and 27 governors have said they will not welcome them, though they have little legal authority to bar the federal government from settling refugees in their states. [Continue reading…]