Refugees and Terrorism
In Own Sound, Ontario, a thirty something man wore a jacket that had on its back the following:
Welcome to Canada
Though many Canadians and Americans have raised concerns about security checks, since the terror attacks on Paris this past Friday, there have been many voices urging a reconsideration of the number, the manner and even the prospect of allowing the entry of so many refugees who are believers in Islam. For example, Jack Engelhard, a well-known writer, wrote an Op-ed in Arutz Sheva’s Israel National News on Monday:
Jack Engelhard is the Ben Hecht of our time, an out-and-out Israeli revisionist so it should be no surprise that he won the Ben Hecht award for his writing. The above was but one of his many columns in that outlet for right-wing Zionist views. He is the author of novels as well as essays – Indecent Proposal: The Original Novel (2001) and the more recent, The Bathsheba Deadline: An Original Novel. The latter, self-published I believe, is a newspaper thriller with such paragraphs as: “We kissed. She sighed, as only a woman can sigh. We kissed again and she sighed again. She said she loved me and hoped –her only hope was that I hadn’t come along too late. There is nothing worse than two people hooking up when it’s all over…”
The first novel is not nearly as badly written, but it comes close. It is an update of the Abraham and Isaac story, of calling their wives sisters in front of strangers so an alien stranger will not kill them to make their beautiful wives concubines. In the novel, an Arab billionaire, Ibrahim Hassan, offers Joshua Cantor, a Holocaust survivor and speechwriter, $1 million if he can sleep with his wife. Both books allow Engelhard to use fiction as a format to expound his ideological fantasies.
Engelhard is an articulate and outspoken writer, though clearly not a very good one, but he does not mince words. That is an advantage in citing him. The essay on Syrian refugees is entitled, “Now who’s being paranoid: After the Paris bloodbath – time to throw out the trash.” In spite of all the empirical evidence otherwise clearly indicating average Muslims are as opposed to terrorism as much as anyone, he began with the claim that Muslims felt no shame over what happened. “So what are we supposed to say when a company of Muslims steps in, as they just did? There is no shame in their eyes over what happened.”
He went on with the following as examples of his declarations:
- “What happened? Islam came to town. That’s what happened and now more than 100 Parisians are dead.”
- “Muslims are suspect. Too bad about the ones who are no part of this and in some places targets or victims as well.”
- “But that’s what they’ve done to us, the Allah Akhbar crowd. They’ve turned us into justified bigots. We fear all of them, the good along with the bad. Yes I said this and you can quote me, ‘justified bigotry’…but within the context of people who intend to do us harm.”
To this litany of assessments and judgments, he added:
- “Later, G-d can sort them out but meanwhile our reckless leaders keep importing them by the planeload. Obama is even accelerating the welcome.”
- “In Canada, I have just learned, federated Jews are spreading out the red carpet for these newly arrived ‘Syrian migrants,’ most of them men without women or children; most of them of military age and most of them deserters. But these Jews know better and have chosen to be more hospitable than Abraham and more merciful than G-d.”
- “It’s about their commandment that commands them to kill. That’s it, period. Will the Left get this message? Probably not.”
- “Yes I am intolerant against people who keep blowing us up. Sorry. I am funny and intolerant that way.”
His statements have at least the benefit of being clearer than that of the 26 American Republican governors, almost all from the southern states and the mid-western and non-Pacific western states – all states with a well-deserved fame for their hospitality – who would ban the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, for most of them, not just Muslim refugees, but all Syrian refugees. Of course, in the American system which guarantees the free movement of people within its borders, state governors cannot legally ban the entry of Syrian refugees. But they can make it inhospitable for them to come. They can deny settlement agencies the funds for ESL training or help in accessing employment. So the governors will have a rationale:
There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders through this federal resettlement program, and we must ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard the security of Americans.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
These efforts to do all that they can to discourage entry into their states would undoubtedly not survive a court challenge, even in a Republican-dominated Supreme Court, but they would be effective in the long interim before such a court case is heard. Further, the governors will get their Republican colleagues with a majority in Congress to pass legislation denying funds for their resettlement. Obama will undoubtedly veto such a bill, but, in the interim, the extremely modest initiative of the Obama administration to resettle 30,0000 refugees would be so immersed in controversy, bad taste and bigotry, that refugees will only come to America because their conditions are so terrible.
This is unequivocal grandstanding on the immigration and refugee issue in anticipation of the forthcoming election in 2016. In Canada, where unexpectedly we had a very different outcome from a much more muted debate on refugees, even the 25,000 that the Liberal government has pledged to bring is modest. The debate has focused on the efficacy of such a rapid intake by the end of the year.
But let us go to the so-called “justified bigotry” argument. Terrorism did not begin when Muslims came to town. It was a radical Sikh group, members of Babbar Khalsa, that blew Air India Flight 182 out of the air. Now a Sikh is Canada’s Defence Minister, responsible for protecting the security of Canadians. Canadian authorities have worked diligently to deport Toronto’s Ramanan Mylvaganum, a Canadian with two graduate degrees and a Sri Lankan Tamil, who was convicted of supplying weapons and ammunition to the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a terrorist group. Though violence and terror can come from almost any group, identification with the Muslim religion has recently become the most prominent. And that terrorism does not only come from Arabs – a Somali group in Canada was believed by Canadian security agencies to be planning a terror attack within Canada.
If we extend the reach from terrorism to violence, we recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Vietnamese to Canada; they have been a tremendously successful community. But they also produced a very small number of violent youth gangs that acted on behalf of the Chinese mafia to kill rivals in the fight for control of the illicit drug trade. Or if we go back a number of years, we find the record of association of violence and even terrorism with a wide variety of ethnic groups. In my first year as a professor at York University in 1966, anti-Castro terrorists, with a safe haven in Florida, used a bazooka to attack the Cuban embassy in Ottawa. Subsequent bombings took place against the Cuban trade delegation and a bomb was exploded in the Cuban pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. About seven more bombing incidents followed, most in the next ten years.
Armenians have targeted Turks – attacking the Turkish Commercial Counselor in Ottawa in 1982 and paralyzing him, assassinating the Turkish military attaché to Canada in that same year and three years later killed a Canadian security guard when the Armenians seized the Turkish embassy in Ottawa. And, of course, we must not forget our own Irish Fenians whose terrorist raids go back to the nineteenth century – after all, they were the ones who assassinated Thomas D’Arcy McGhee, one of the fathers of confederation, in 1868. Nor the American terrorists who used Canada as a base – such as the John Wilkes Booth team that planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Montreal.
Though Israelis, and Jews more particularly, have been targets of Arab terrorist attacks in Canada, the far-right Jewish Defence League (JDL), founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose goal was to protect Jews “by whatever means necessary,” is a prescribed terrorist group connected with fifteen terrorist incidents in the U.S. The group with the strongest terrorist record in the United States was once protected by many of the governors in the American southern states who now object to the intake of Syrian refugees – namely, the Klu Klux Klan. The number of terror incidents they perpetrated numbers in the thousands and even perhaps the tens of thousands.
In Canada we have had our own FLQ that killed a Quebec cabinet minister. We have even had our own home-grown government terrorism. In the seventies, the RCMP committed arson and set fire to our research centre – Praxis – on Huron Street. So did terrorism start when Muslims came to town? Definitely not. It is not just an exaggeration; it is an outright lie. That is not to say that the current form of terrorism practiced by the Islamicist fundamentalist terrorist group, Islamic State (IS), is not the most vicious we have ever seen. I believe it is. And, perhaps the most dangerous. But they constitute a very small, but very significant, minority of Muslims.
If that is conceded, and it is further conceded that other Muslims are the main targets of IS, does this justify barring all Muslims? Does this provide a rationale for “justified bigotry”? Only if we want to betray our fundamental values of respect for human rights and tolerance for minorities. Only if we want to go back to the days prior to 1967 when bigotry was an integral part of Canadian law and immigration practice. Only if we want to go back to a time when a Canadian deputy-minister responded in the thirties to the question about how many Jewish refugees Canada could take, responded: “None is too many.” If I may paraphrase Peter Klein, who arrived in Canada as a Hungarian refugee, “Do not grant IS a post-terrorist victory by getting us to surrender our humanism, our humanitarianism, our respect for human rights and our sense of tolerance that characterizes the Canadian social fabric.”
Engelhard complained that most of Syrian refugees are of military age and most of them deserters. They are not at all. In the United States, where statistics are available and the country to which Engelhard is referring, in four years since the Syrian war broke out, the U.S. has only admitted less than 2,000 Syrian refugees, a paltry number by any standards. Half have been children. Half have been women, 25% over 60 years of age. Young men of military age constitute a very tiny minority.
Sometimes, a family does include refugees with adult children of military age. In Calgary a few weeks ago, I interviewed a mother and her three sons, aged 18, 22 and 26, who had arrived in Canada 36 hours before. The oldest son had been conscripted into the Syrian army and had been killed by IS. The other three were escaping the draft. The whole family was escaping persecution because they were Christians. As Marcus Gee wrote in this morning’s Globe and Mail, “The Syrian refugees are victims of terror, not agents of it.”
Further, with respect to importing draft dodgers and deserters, it is well to remember that the largest influx of refugees and migrants into Canada consisted of Americans fleeing the Vietnamese war. Most were single men of military age who were either draft dodgers or deserters. Using Engelhard’s “reasoning,” we would never have admitted any. Further, we do not blame Engelhard for the recent spate of hate crimes committed against Muslims in Canada just because he, and those of his ilk, publish screeds linking Muslims with terrorism. Why should the ordinary Muslim be blamed for Islamicist terrorism? As The French ambassador to Canada said, such a connection is an “intellectual aberration.”
Why the “justified bigotry? Because the Muslim Koran commands them to kill. It is certainly true that the Koran has over a hundred verses commanding its believers to kill infidels. The latter are allegedly different than similar commandments in the Torah and the Old Testament of Christianity that targeted the elimination and genocide of specific groups because they were enemies of the people of Israel. But the Bible commands us to welcome the stranger in the most repeated passage in that text. The Qur’am calls for the protection of asylum seekers. A famous Arabic homily states that, “The stranger is blind.” Immigrants and refugees who come to our shores know so little about our land that they are vulnerable. That is why they must be welcomed and given guidance and help. Verse 4:97 in the Koran asks rhetorically, “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to flee for refuge?” Every part of the earth belongs to God no matter what nation or religious group currently dominates in that country.
Bigotry is never justified. It is only ignorant.
However, when the everyday settings or ordinary people rather than specific officials or even specific modes of air transport, like planes, are attacked, when soccer stadiums, restaurants and dance venues for our youth become the targets, then the terror is far more frightening because it aims, not just at our abstract moral principles, but at our day-to-day way of life. ISIS is indeed a scourge. But the worst way to counter that scourge is to adopt their intolerance. The best way entails cooperating with the vast majority of Muslims who are as terrified as the ordinary Canadian or Frenchman, or, perhaps more so, as they become targets of a violent backlash encouraged by the over-the-top statements of Engelhard and some political leaders.
In fact, one of the goals of those terrorists is to encourage that very backlash as well as engage in revenge for Western attacks in Muslim states and efforts to disrupt the ordinary lives of the French and of Canadians. It is to prove that we are as biased, as much bigots and racists, as intolerant as they are. As Stephanie MacLellan wrote in her op-ed piece in The Toronto Star yesterday, for the terrorists, emigration is “a dangerous major sin,” leaving the land of the caliphate for the land of the unbeliever is punishable by them. Flight embarrasses the extremists and their narrative that Muslims will never be accepted in the West. Tolerance undermines their either/or reasoning, the same type of reasoning that Engelhard employs – “Either us or them.”
Sheema Khan made the point eloquently in her op-ed in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.
The backlash against Muslims has begun. As if somehow, they are responsible for the heinous actions of mass murderers. As if the faith they profess is one and the same with the twisted ideology of militant extremists. After issuing statements condemning the attacks, attending vigils for the victims and sending messages of condolence, Muslims gird themselves for the suspicion, vandalism and hateful comments that invariably follow. Yet our Canadian fabric is resilient, as demonstrated by the good people of Peterborough, Ont., who rallied around the Muslim community after its mosque was torched on Saturday.” (Over $100,000 was raised, more than enough to repair all the damage.)
One of the worst parts of this backlash is how painful all of this has been to our Canadian citizens who are Muslims. This morning in The Globe and Mail, Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor of a large city, Calgary, with a reputation as the best mayor of any large city, expressed how upset he has been at the tiny minority of Canadians who generalize from the perhaps .1% of Muslims who sympathize with or support terrorism. He himself refused to generalize from the minority of Canadians who are bigots to any irrelevant generalizations about all Canadians.
There is a risk, but it is very tiny, especially when compared to the benefit to the refugees and the threat and fear they face. However, Canada benefits when an overwhelming number of Canadians in leadership positions welcome Syrian refugees. Those leaders come from all the professions. Large business organizations have backed the intake of refugees and indicated that they would be preferable to those taken into Canada on the Temporary Unskilled Worker Program. In Alberta, 2,000 former Sudanese refugees have settled in the small town of Brooks with a population in the greater area of 20,000, and work in the meat packing plant there. The Canadian Meat Packing Council, and Maple Leaf Foods would welcome refugees to work in its meat packing plant in Brandon, Manitoba. Universities have offered free spaces for university-aged refugees.
The Harper government may have offered a paltry number of admissions, but at worst it explained that it was worried about security concerns. It never justified its limited response on racial or religious grounds. In imitation of its Tory predecessor, the Trudeau government Ministers all stress that “security is at the forefront” in the admission of Syrian refugees.
Let me conclude very simplistically:
- a) There are security checks prior to entry into Canada;
- b) Terrorists rarely use refugee systems to enter a country because that path leaves a big track, unless they enter en masse in a large migration movement where there are no border checks, a situation not applicable to Canada;
- c) Is the tiny risk of allowing entry to one refugee who may be a terrorist worth the sacrifice and suffering of so many refugees? If risks to ourselves of a relatively minute order outweigh the suffering of those refugees, then we have lost our moral compass;
- d) The type of refugees we take – families with children, persecuted minorities, refugees first cleared by UNHCR – are least likely to be terrorists;
- e) If similar reasoning was always used in the past, most of us would not be here;
- f) That “bigoted” reasoning was akin to the reasons offered when Jews were barred from entry into Canada – and Chinese and Sikhs, etc.
There is a fight going on that is much larger than the political wars over refugees taking place in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, much larger even than the war on terror. It is the war over the hearts and minds of Muslims being waged by Muslims themselves. Will Islam emerge as a faith rooted in compassion, tolerance and respect for the Other? Or will it be a religion of fear and terror, of subjugation instead of a respect for rights. In that fight, it is our duty as Canadians of whatever faith (or no faith) to weigh in on the side that supports those pushing for a tolerant and open Islam instead of reinforcing the fascists and bigots within Islam.
Tomorrow: Jacob and his wives
Sunday: Fighting Terrorism