Friday, 20 November 2015

The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Islamic State.

Syria is in the midst of a bloody, four year old, civil war and their population is fleeing in a mass exodus. Four million people have fled the country since the war started, with a further 7.6 million displaced from their homes within Syria. Since the spring of 2011, more than 250,000 Syrians have died. To put that number into perspective, that would be approximately 150 dead each and every day, compared to the 130 killed in the Paris terrorist attacks last week.

After aerial bombardment by the Syrian government of rebel-held areas of Azaz in Aleppo governorate.

So, the reasons why Syrians are fleeing Syria seems fairly obvious, but their large numbers are beginning to strain the resources of nearby countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt) which have, until recently, taken in the bulk of these refugees.

But, this summer, the Syrians began to travel the long, overland, route through the Balkans to the European Union, and the Europeans have not responded well to the influx. Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands, again, have taken the lion's share of the refugees, while at least 12 EU countries have taken virtually none. And then, in October, Hungary completed the construction of a 109 mile fence along its border with Serbia and Croatia, at a cost of $106 million.

Until this week, the world seemed prepared to try and deal with the problem, with Germany, France and the US preparing to do their parts. Then, on the evening of Friday, November 13, Isis terrorists attacked Paris with coordinated bombings and shootings which killed 130 people.

Now, in response to these attacks, the doors of many countries around the world are slamming shut in fear that terrorists may be slipping across borders, posing as refugees.

So, this is where the world currently stands: a huge number of refugees of an ongoing civil war are in desperate need of humanitarian aid and the world seems willing, in the face of admittedly warranted fear of terrorist violence, to abandon them. A situation sadly reminiscent of the refusal to accept Jewish refugees during the second world war.

This leads to the question of what is the right course of action. The options, at the moment, seem fairly polarized between the desire to do the moral thing (accepting refugees into our countries, in spite of the risks) and doing the safe thing (turning them away, due to the risks).

Are these options as clear cut as they seem? The moral option seems cut and dry: hundreds of thousands of human beings need our help or they may die. The second option, however, is more complicated.

First, there is no concrete proof, as of yet, that any terrorists have entered other countries in the guise of refugees. And, even if some did, would they be any greater in number, compared to other, arguably, easier methods of inserting terrorists. In fact, it could be argued that the most probable reason for the terrorists to pose as refugees is to instill exactly the type of fear we are witnessing in western hearts.

Secondly, would closing our borders actually make us safer? To answer that question we need to understand why the Islamic State has ramped up attacks on international targets recently (the Russian airliner bombing over the Sanai last month, the double suicide bombing in Lebanon last Thursday, and the attacks in Paris last Friday), considering that conventional wisdom, at that point, was leaning towards the belief that Isis was more of a regional threat, with limited global intentions or capabilities; certainly posing less of a threat than Al-Queda.

The Islamic State, Isis, Daesh is an extremist military group who seized large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014. In June, the group declared the establishment of a Caliphate, a form of Islamic government led by a Caliph. The Caliphate claims authority over Muslims worldwide and administers Sharia law; although much of the Muslim world see it as illegitimate.

By creating a caliphate, the islamic State creates a situation where, in theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the Caliphate. And, although their ranks have expanded, through the savvy use of social media, from 20-30 thousand fighters in 2014 to 80-100 thousand(est.) currently, they have not seen the mass influx of Muslims to the Caliphate that the likely expected. And, herein lies the problem that weighs on the issue of whether closing our borders to refugees is the safe option that many now believe it to be.

To maintain their Caliphate, the Islamic State needs to maintain their physical territory and, if they hope to do so, they need to swell their ranks - a lot.

So, if moderate Muslims aren't buying what the Islamic State is selling, what is Isis to do? We could make the argument that one strategy would be for them to attack the West at home (especially those states that are accepting Muslim refugees or already have large Muslim populations, like France) in hopes of turning public opinion against Muslims in general and forcing moderate Muslims into the Caliphate. It is interesting to note that Isis has just (Nov. 19) threatened more attacks on Italy and the United states, two other top tier countries, in terms of refugee acceptance.

And, in these early days after the Paris attacks, this appears to be exactly what is happening. At least 26 US governors recently declared that they will refuse to take Syrian refugees; Republican presidential candidates issued statements that only Christian refugees should be accepted or that all Muslims should be registered; French opposition leader, Marine Le Pen, said France should immediately stop taking in refugees - and this type of sentiment, of fear and prejudice, seems to be spreading throughout the world.

Do we really want to increase tensions and further divisions between Christians and Muslims? When all we offer another person is hate, why would we be surprised when we receive only hate in return - so closing our borders to refugees may not be the wisest course of action; it may not even be the safest course of action; and it, certainly, will never be the moral course of action.

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