As debates rage on social media, at dinner parties, and in official government offices about what to do (or not do) regarding Syrian refugees in the wake of attacks in Paris and Beirut, a lot of misinformation, bias, fear, and ignorance clouds the discussion. While a lot of the back-and-forth is largely pointless, I believe there’s some potential for people to correct misconceptions. I really have to believe that, as a journalist and a teacher, or I might as well quit my life’s work. So in that spirit, I’ve compiled a collection of links that are helpful to understanding the situation and clearing up misinformation — and hopefully cutting through the fear that blinds many people. Especially if you’ve been sent here from someone else, please try to read all these articles and to do so with an open mind. If you have other suggestions of articles to add, leave them in the comments and I’ll update the post.
First, to understand why I’m writing this post, the Washington Post reports on the US state governors stating they will not accept refugees (although the legality of those statements is in question — it doesn’t seem they can refuse refugees): Governors rush to slam door on Syrian refugees.
Next, given how much misinformation is out there about Syrian refugees, FactCheck has done an excellent and thorough job of clarifying any misconceptions: Stretching Facts on Syrian Refugees.
For those who have forgotten about current reality for Syrian refugees, here’s a refresher from the Guardian: Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees. It’s worth taking note, as the Washington Post reports, that the image is already being used as propaganda among terrorists: Islamic State uses image of drowned Syrian toddler as warning to would-be refugees.
If that image is insufficient, or you’ve already become desensitized to it, check out these arresting images of Syrian children at BuzzFeed: Powerful Images Showing Where Young Syrian Refugees Sleep.
A lot of people are concerned about how much — if at all — Syrian refugees and other refugees are vetted before being allowed to arrive or remain in the US, CNN has a great explainer on the process. The Week has a brief blurb on it, drawing from the Politifact post that assessed Jeb Bush’s statement, “It takes almost a year for a refugee to be processed in the United States.”
Also, have you heard the argument that the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were refugees? That’s incorrect: The Boston Bombers Were Not Refugees — Neither Was the Paris Attacker. If you want to better understand what the terrorism risks in the US actually are, this piece from BuzzFeed does a great job of compiling the data: 5 Charts That Show What Terrorism In America Looks Like.
If you have concerns about US national security, especially regarding Syrians’ presence in the US, this link will help familiarize you with the risks. From the Niskanen Center: Six Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees After Paris.
Along the same vein, overreacting to the terror attacks could actually hasten success for ISIS/Daesh, as Ezra Klein discusses in Vox: ISIS can only succeed if we overreact — so we shouldn’t.
Relatedly, some people have claimed that the attacks in Paris were Syrian refugees or were posing as them. In reality, all the attackers have been found to be European Union nationals, mostly French or Belgian. There was a Syrian passport found near one of the suicide bombers, which leads to the question of why a suicide bomber who believes in the Islamic “State” would carry a Syrian passport unless he wanted it to be found. Regardless, the same passport was found on a different man in Turkey, impliying that both are probably fake.
If Westerners turn their fear of terrorism into hatred or simply rejection of refugees, that pretty much delivers what the terrorists want, as discussed in this from the Washington Post: The Islamic State wants you to hate refugees.
Many individuals have drawn comparisons between turning away Syrian refugees and turning away European Jewish refugees in the mid- and late 1930s, during the lead-up to World War II. David Bier, the Director of Immigration Policy at Niskanen Center, discussed exactly that comparison — last month, before the Paris attacks: What the Holocaust Can Teach Us About the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
If you’re concerned about terrorists already in the US — and you should be since their existence is more likely — then you might want to be concerned about how easy it is for them to get firearms too. At the Washington Post: From 2004 to 2014, over 2,000 terror suspects legally purchased guns in the United States. You can also get some stats on the risk of terrorism here.
Meanwhile, a college friend of mine in Paris writes about the very real danger that the fear and PTSD in Paris can provoke: Panic in Paris: Variety Journalists, Nearly Trampled, Describe Their Ordeal.
And what does all this fear get us? Perfectly ordinary people on planes here in the US getting kicked off… for reading the news: Police: ‘Suspicious activity’ on Chicago-bound plane was just someone watching news on phone.
Finally, the Twitter account Historical Opinion has provided several former polls of attitudes toward Jewish refugees leading up to and during World War II. The science of polling was not nearly as precise then as it is now, so it’s uncertain how representative these are, but their general sentiment matches up with historical accounts of the attitudes of the times and with editorials and editorial cartoons. I’ve posted screenshots to two tweets below.