Fight The Real Enemy: Terrorism, Not Immigration

Fear of terrorist attacks is causing not just a rise in xenophobia, but an erosion of civil liberties, a rise in anti-Muslim activity, and the threat of further Western military intervention in the Middle East.
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Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Originally posted by The Progressive, June 29, 2016

What is most disturbing about the dramatic and disruptive decision by the U.K. electorate to leave Europe is how much of it is apparently rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment.

British authorities have already reported an alarming spike in anti-immigrant hate crimes since the “Brexit” referendum.

Fear of terrorist attacks is causing not just a rise in xenophobia, but an erosion of civil liberties, a rise in anti-Muslim activity, and the threat of further Western military intervention in the Middle East.

As in the United States, most Muslims in Europe are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. But unlike the largely middle class and assimilated Muslim community in North America, European Muslims are disproportionately part of the underclass, often in segregated neighborhoods, facing discrimination in employment, harassment by police, and an uncertain future.

Unmoored youth in Europe are targeted for recruitment by terrorist groups who recognize their susceptibility to indoctrination and their desperation to find community and a mission in life—or through death.

Islam is not the primary motivator for their acts of terror; these recruits generally know little about the Quran or Islam.

The poverty of Europe’s Muslim neighborhoods is not new. What is new is the dramatic increase in terrorist cells over the past dozen years or so—which coincides with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The so-called “Islamic State,” which was behind the Paris and Brussels attacks and other terrorist plots, was founded and led by Iraqis radicalized by the U.S.-led counterinsurgency war during the previous decade.

The vast majority of European governments, including those of France and Belgium, opposed the U.S.- led 2003 invasion, in part out of fear that it would create a backlash by radical Salafist movements in the Middle East that could spread to their own Muslim communities.

Tragically, this is exactly what is happening.

Much of the backlash is being projected on other victims of U.S. policy: refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. Many of these new refugees from Iraq and Syria, rather than being from a poor underclass, are well-educated doctors, lawyers, and professors, forced to flee when threatened by members of ISIS, which has seized many of the urban areas of northern Syria and Iraq.

Indeed, most of the poor cannot afford the costs of the smugglers who charge exorbitant rates to transport people from refugee camps in southeastern Turkey to the country's west coast and place them on the boats to make the crossing to Greece to begin their travel north and west.

Refugees who become immigrants have a lower crime rate than the native population. When allowed to integrate, they tend to become productive citizens, start small businesses, and put a lot more money into the social system than they take out. The large numbers of professionals among the Syrian asylum-seekers could be an asset to the aging European population. The birthrate in most European countries is so low that, without immigrants, the continent would actually lose population, some countries by double-digits within the next thirty years.

Terrorist attacks in Europe also encourage more hawkish elements in both Europe and the United States advocating increased Western military intervention in the Middle East. That, however, plays into the hands of extremists, who would portray themselves as the defenders of the Islamic world, and persuade susceptible youth to join them to battle Western imperialism.

And the overt racism displayed by many Brexit supporters in Britain will likely be used by Islamist extremists to convince such alienated European Muslims that acceptance and integration is impossible.

The last thing we need are attitudes and policies that not only have serious moral and economic consequences, but will only encourage terrorism.

Stephen Zunes, a professor of Politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

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