Laura Sellmansberger, Contributing Editor
The recent ISIS-led terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people and injured more than 350. The attackers indiscriminately shot at innocent people who had left their homes that evening to enjoy music, food, and each other’s company. These barbaric attacks were coordinated with an unprecedented level of sophistication, and marked a clear turning point in the geographic strategy of the terrorist group. Many Americans fear that if France has been targeted, then the United States will surely be next. A lot of people find this all very, very scary. I do, too.
But now, more than ever, it is critical that we do not let ourselves be consumed by fear. While fear in itself is a healthy, primal response to environmental threats, we must be cognizant of its grip on us. If left to roam wild in our minds, fear can have disastrous effects. Fear can breed hate. Surely, we know by now that the right way to fight hate is not with more hate. Now is the time to focus on understanding, empathy, and inclusivity.
Shame on the American media for continuing to play the role of the ultimate fear machine. CNN recently invited “military analyst” Jonathan Gillam to share his opinion on the origins of radical Islam. His commentary sought to relate the Paris attacks to the Armenian Genocide. On national television, he said that the tactics used by the Paris attackers were “the same terroristic tactics that were used as Islam began 100 years ago in Armenia as they moved through Armenia and killed 1.5 million Armenians.” Not only is this bizarre comment ridden with blatant misinformation about Islam and the context of the Armenian genocide, it is irresponsible and downright offensive to use the Armenian Genocide as a tool to perpetuate fear and prejudice toward Muslims.
Shame on the U.S. state governors who have vowed to do everything in their power keep Syrian refugees out of their states, and on the 289 members of the House of Representatives who voted to drastically tighten screening procedures on Syrian refugees. Many of these people also voted in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which, as many war-opponents predicted would happen, destabilized the Middle East and created the fertile grounds for terrorism that served as ISIS’s original home base. Once again, many of our government officials have failed to understand that violence, lack of opportunity, and desperation are the ingredients that breed terrorism. By attempting to deny families the chance to escape that toxic environment, they are doing their best to ensure that the cycle perpetuates.
And finally, shame on the ordinary U.S. citizens who wish for us to shut our doors to innocent families who are fleeing violence. The Syrian refugees and the Parisians for whom we openly mourn are victims of the same evil. Both of these groups of people simply want peace and safety and are equally deserving of those things.
I am not claiming that continuing to accept Syrian refugees will be without risk. We absolutely must use every security measure available to ensure that the wrong people do not cross our borders. But we have good reason to feel reassured. The United States employs security measures that are much more extensive (and invasive) than those used in Europe, and our borders are more difficult to reach and cross from Syria. And perhaps most importantly, the United States embraces and integrates immigrants better than any country in the world. Of course, we are not perfect in this respect, but our long history as a melting pot of ethnicities has helped to create a culture that enables relatively swift cultural integration and socioeconomic mobility. Because of this, the risk of a U.S. resident later becoming a terrorist is extremely low. Yes, there are some examples of this phenomenon occurring, but it is rare. American Muslims have traveled to ISIS-controlled territories at approximately one-third of the rate of European Muslims. The reason for this disparity is clear: European Muslims are markedly less integrated in their societies than American Muslims, and they “remain poorer, more ghettoized and more discriminated against than American Muslims, whose levels of education and income mirror those of the entire American population.”
We must choose compassion over fear. We have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to safeguard innocent Syrians from this terror. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Laura Sellmansberger is a Master of Urban Planning student specializing in Economic Development and Housing. Her professional interests relate to U.S. urban policy with regards to economic inequality and housing. She has called the United States, Germany, and Uganda home.