Radicalization, Not Refugees, Is Europe's Challenge

The question of whether the West should take in Middle Eastern refugees is becoming irrelevant. Shutting the borders would be immoral. It would also be impossible.

The real issue then is how to absorb these refugees, share the burden equitably and above all, avoid the mistakes of the past.

The political, social and economic challenges are enormous, compounded by the fact that host nations themselves are currently grappling with waves of jihadist terrorism on their own territory.

Most of these refugees aren't labor migrants, they're life migrants. States we once knew as Syria, Iraq and Libya are disintegrating; Yemen and Afghanistan are shadows of themselves. Across the Middle East and Africa, fanatic Islamist terrorists are threatening entire populations, not just the religious and ethnic minorities, in their bid to turn the world into their caliphate.

The number of Middle Eastern refugees who have applied for asylum in Europe this year is unprecedented, yet it pales in comparison to the millions who have already sought shelter in countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Many of these refugees, full of despair after months and years of unbearable living conditions in overcrowded camps, are now planning to move to Europe.

The agreement the EU reached with Turkey last month to help Ankara cope with its crisis and prevent a further mass exodus to Europe is welcome. The military measures undertaken by Western states to strike ISIS at its root are long overdue.

But the responsibility should not be the West's alone: wealthy Sunni nations, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, must join the international coalition to defeat ISIS and do their part to come to the aid of refugees.

Much comparison has been made between the current crisis and Western nations' rejection of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. The similarities and differences between the two issues are equally persuasive, but inconsequential.

There is one absolute tying the two cases together: our human duty to help those in need.

Jewish tradition says he who saves one life saves an entire world. But many Jews fear that these particular refugees will exacerbate Jew-hatred at a time of already high levels of anti-Semitism. These concerns must be taken seriously, as must the threat that jihadists may infiltrate the hundreds of thousands of true asylum seekers.

But it is important to note that the terrorists who carried out the heinous crimes in France in November, pledging allegiance to ISIS, were not refugees. As far as we know, they were European nationals, children of immigrants. The suspects targeted in the manhunt that shut down Brussels in the aftermath of the attacks were citizens and residents of Belgium.

The real threat today comes not from refugees, but from radicalized young Europeans, indoctrinated at will in Syria and elsewhere, returning home to cause mayhem in the countries in which they were born and raised.

These youth embrace an extreme and perverse form of Islam. Some of them are radicalized on the internet, some in prison and others in mosques.

The ranks of ISIS are teeming with well-educated young people from middle-class families. Clearly, it is not poverty, lack of education or job discrimination that radicalizes them. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls' declaration that no social, cultural or sociological "excuse" can be invoked to explain or justify the abhorrent acts the terrorists committed is absolutely on target.

We must face a simple fact: What most of these radical youth have in common is that they come from heavily concentrated Muslim areas in major European cities.

They are incited by claims that all Muslims are discriminated against in the West because of their religion. While such discrimination does exist to a certain extent, it is neither systemic nor can it explain what radicalizes members of this community to become terrorists aiming to kill a maximum number of people.

How then can the problem be resolved?

The main challenge once migrants are taken in is successfully integrating them (as opposed to just absorption). Imbuing them with the fundamental values of democratic societies is absolutely vital if we want to prevent them and their children from becoming a threat one day.

Proper screening and surveillance are critical. This policy is not an infringement of civil liberties; it is entrenched in the Convention on the Status of Refugees that war criminals cannot apply for asylum. The vetting process isn't easy and can take years to complete -- as is already happening in the United States -- but there is no alternative.

Governments must also vehemently prevent the isolation of refugees and ensure that they are properly immersed in society, with full access to the education system and to the job market. During my nearly decade and a half with World ORT, the global Jewish educational initiative, I saw first-hand from Africa to the former Soviet Union how providing training and skills empowers those disadvantaged by war or disaster and promotes individual growth and cooperative behavior. For example, ORT's literacy and training for employment program in Liberia helped more than 11,000 war-affected young people gain basic literacy and life skills.

Migrants, refugees and survivors of war must be given these tools to build status and become fully fledged members of society, and not be regarded as foreigners forever. Europe cannot afford another generation of radicalized youth being raised in its midst.

The United States has been much more successful at integrating its migrants, and providing them ground to become proud and contributing residents. In Europe, all too often the attitude prevails that once a migrant, always a migrant.

It is just as imperative for authorities to do everything in their power to prevent the radicalization of those already within our midst. It is intolerable that Muslims are being indoctrinated, radicalized and recruited by terror groups within state prison systems: Surveillance within these institutions must be vigilant. It is intolerable that within so many mosques in Europe, funded by oil-rich Arab countries, preachers of hate incite against Western values: Such establishments must also be put under tight watch and if necessary shut down.

The fight against terror requires tough measures and will test our societies to their core. But let's be clear: It is the young people bringing terror and jihad home from the Middle East -- not refugees fleeing for their lives -- who are the biggest threat to our Western way of life.

After all, these refugees are the victims of the very same brand of radical Islam that we in the West are fighting. It is our obligation to defeat this common enemy wherever it raises its head.