Yesterday was not a good day in American history

Yesterday was not a good day in American history:

  • We initiated a migration ban on seven Muslim countries, although no major terrorism plot against the U.S. since 9/11 has come from those countries. There are countries that have supplied terrorists in directed plots against the U.S. since 9/11, but they are not on the list. I’m guessing they have been excluded because there are serious financial and business consequences if we were to designate these countries similarly.
  • We stopped Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. even though there are zero incidents of Syrian refugees infiltrating the U.S. to conduct an attack. America’s ISIS recruits and their plots are overwhelmingly homegrown, not foreign infiltrators.
  • We proposed building a wall to stop illegal immigration, even though illegal immigration has been steadily declining for years. We’ve proposed no realistic solutions for the legal immigration of migrant workers or a path to citizenship for them. Walls never work and we could be spending our national resources on things that promote American good (education and health, cough cough, American first) rather than blocking out irrational fears.
  • We again brought up the idea of reintroducing torture, because we need to “fight fire with fire,” even though we know torture doesn’t work, thus justifying our actions by the lowest standard of our adversaries, undermining our principles, all to appear ‘tougher’ rather than ‘better’ than our adversaries. 

Regardless of whether one is a Republican or Democrat, or if these policies don’t come to fruition, it’s hard to understand how any of these policies are about putting America first, or “Making America Great Again.” We pride ourselves on phrases like “nothing to fear but fear itself” but it appears that we have nothing to fear but being insufficiently scared of things that are sometimes real but mostly imagined.

This morning, for the first time in my life, I cannot say that we are the home of the free and the brave, the ones that free the oppressed, that everyone has an equal opportunity, or that we will make the tougher, right decisions in the face of adversity. Even after the 9/11 attacks, and missteps in the War on Terror, I could say this. Today I cannot.

We say we want to “Make America Great Again” but somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that what made America great was that we, Americans, were the world’s refugees, we were the earth’s oddballs that came together and created the best system of governance, invented the world’s advancements, worked harder than the rest, earned our place in the world, promoted and fought for the ideals of freedom and liberty at home and abroad, and worked to give everyone, American or not, an opportunity to make the best life for themselves, their loved ones and their communities.

America is great when we face our fears, don’t compromise our principles, lead by example, and make hard, short-term choices for the greater good of humanity. We know we are great, when others around the world want to emulate us, join us and befriend us.

We are not great because we tell ourselves we are. We are not great because of enticing deals, phony tough talk, or giving into our fears — fears increasingly fueled by bogus narratives. America is not the best country in world history because we said,” stay away, leave us alone, we can do all this by ourselves!”

We landed on the moon, won world wars, achieved standards of living never witnessed in human history, and rescued the downtrodden and the unfortunate from natural and man-made peril. We did all this because no one else could, no one else would, it wasn’t “America First,” it was “America the Beautiful.”

Many will see this through their own partisan lens (shocking!). I know and like many of the more responsible appointees coming into parts of the administration and I hope they can re-direct things soon. But the past week’s words and policies have consequences. America is “not safer” and definitely not “greater” by any of these new policies from the first week.

The pendulum will swing back, and I hope not too many Americans, particularly those in uniform that have carried the greatest sacrifice since 9/11, suffer the consequences of this past week’s tough talk.

President Trump may be the best thing for America in the end, not because he makes us great again, but because he makes us, as Americans, want to be great again in spite of him, not because of him.

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Why the US doesn’t have a Muslim problem, and Europe does

I’m first generation American, with a Pakistani-born father. My dad and his older brother both left Pakistan at the same time, but that is where their similarities end. My uncle, an engineer working for the German Space Agency, never felt German. His son avoided mandatory German military service and struggled with finding his identity. My father, on the other hand, came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, ran a successful business, raised two sons (one of whom joined the United States Navy), and proudly votes in every election be it local, state or federal. The contrast between these two brothers is why Europe has a Muslim problem. It’s not the influx of Muslims; rather, it’s Europe’s inability to welcome and assimilate immigrants. The resulting racial tension creates a perfect recipe for ISIS recruitment among disenfranchised young men. America is doing it right, and we cannot repeat the European model.

Officials believe that over 5,000 Western Europeans have made their way to Syria to support ISIS. However, the actual number is considerably higher according to the Soufan Group, with several European countries contributing a disturbing number of fighters to ISIS: France (1700), Russia (2400), UK (760) and Belgium (470)[1]. For a country like Belgium with only 11 million citizens, having almost 500 citizens join ISIS is a shockingly high number. Furthermore, large pockets of Muslims are concentrated in cities like Brussels where more than a quarter of Belgium’s Muslim population resides. These heavily concentrated Muslim enclaves, according to a 2007 report from the Centre of European Policy Studies, are more likely, than the EU general population, to be poor, segregated and crime-prone neighborhoods[2].  But the question remains, why is this trend of European Muslims joining ISIS happening now?

With the crisis in Syria, Europe has received a massive influx of Muslim refugees. However, with 19 million Muslims in Europe, have the refugee numbers contributed to ISIS’ recruiting efforts? The short answer is no. Of the UN reported 4.2 million Muslim refugees, only 850,000 have fled to Europe. While this is a large number of refugees a large number are women and children, with only 62% being men[3]. The reality is that the Muslim migration started long before the crisis in Syria. In fact it grew as a result of an influx of foreign workers taking advantage of lax guest worker programs after the Second World War. Originally meant to be temporary, these workers became permanent and brought with them waves of descendants. Once settled these immigrants did what first generations immigrants do: they had babies. As a result the Muslim population has been steadily growing, not from immigration but by births. The increase in the number of Muslims is a pattern that is expected to continue through 2030, when they are projected to make up 8% of Europe’s population.  Even though the population has been steadily growing the consistent poverty has contributed to racial tensions between Muslims and Europeans even well before the Paris attacks.

Unlike Europe, the US has a very different track record with Muslim immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center there are 3.3 million (or 1% of the population) Muslims living in the US. Furthermore, in the US Muslims make up 10% of US physicians, are the 2nd most educated group after the Jewish population, are as likely as other American households to report an income of $100,000 or more, and over 6,000 serve in the military[4].  The report found that Muslim Americans are “highly assimilated into American society and . . . largely content with their lives.” Unlike European Muslims the report also found that 80 percent of US Muslims were happy with life in America, and 63 percent said they felt no conflict “between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.”[5] Furthermore, this integration into American culture and society, according to the report, is evident in the rates they participate in various everyday activities such as following local sports teams or watching entertainment TV — all similar to those of the American public generally. Lastly, most telling of their loyalty and sense of inclusion, according to the Pew report, is that half of all Muslim immigrants display the US flag at home, in the office, or on their car.[6] It is this sense of inclusion that in large parts contributes to the fact that only an estimated 250 Americans have joined ISIS – a number far less than the number of Belgium citizens who have gone to Syria and Iraq.

My uncle was one of the immigrants who came to Europe under the guest worker program. Unlike current refugees, neither her nor my father were fleeing war; instead they left to pursue professional careers. My uncle was an educated and a skilled worker who climbed the ranks of German’s fledgling space agency to hold a senior scientist post. While he was professionally successful, his children, who were both born in Germany, struggled. They still feel they are outsiders, not quite German but definitely not Pakistani — a feeling that is repeated as they have children of their own. This experience juxtaposed with that of my father shows a clear difference. Even though I was raised in a predominantly white New York City suburb, I was never considered anything other than American. It is treatment that is extended to my children who, like the subsequent descendants of immigrants, are only aware of the ethnic roots as a distant fact. This is the fundamental difference between European and American Muslims: the ability for American Muslims to assimilate. It is an ability that is key to winning the battle with ISIS, which relies on a steady stream of volunteers. As such, as long as Europe continues to make it difficult for Muslims to integrate and assimilate, ISIS will have a pool of disenfranchised and angry young Europeans from which to recruit.

Naveed Jamali is a Senior Fellow in the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an author of How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent.

NOTES

[1]The Soufan Group, “Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq”, http://soufangroup.com/wpcontent/uploads/2015/12/TSG_ForeignFightersUpdate_FINAL3.pdf, (December 8, 2015).

[2]Richard Youngs and Michael Emerson, “Political Islam and European Foreign Policy: Perspectives from Muslim Democrats of the Mediterranean”, https://www.ceps.eu/publications/political-islam-and-european-foreign-policy-perspectives-muslim-democrats-mediterranean,  (28 November 2007).

[3] FactCheck.org, “Facts about the Syrian Refugees”, http://www.factcheck.org/2015/11/facts-about-the-syrian-refugees/, (Posted on November 23, 2015).

[4] Pew Research Center, “Muslim Americans: Middleclass and Mostly Mainstream”, http://www.pewresearch.org/files/old-assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf, (May 22, 2007).

[5] Pew Research Center, “Muslim Americans: Middleclass and Mostly Mainstream”.

[6] Pew Research Center, “Muslim Americans: Middleclass and Mostly Mainstream”.

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