Top 10 Reasons Governors are Wrong to Exclude Syrian Refugees

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some half of US governors have announced their opposition to their states taking in Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. Although they can bother refugees, they can’t actually dictate to people who are here legally where they can live. But anyway, here are the reasons for which these announcements are a form of political hysteria and not grounded in any rational policy considerations:

1. The attackers in Paris were European nationals. The Syrian passport found near one of them was a fake. So are the governors opposed to Belgian immigration into the United States?

2. The attackers were not refugees. They were born in Europe. Refugees are poor and lacking in knowledge or resources about their new environment. The attackers knew exactly where everything was that they wanted to assault and were hooked in with arms smugglers and other hard-to-discover criminal networks.

3. There is no rational reason to bar Syrian refugees but accept refugees from other conflict areas. The US already admits 70,000 refugees every year, but only took in about 400 Syrians last year. Most refugees are fleeing conflict situations or oppressive governments, and if you wanted to be paranoid about them you could fear them all on the same grounds that the GOP fears Syrians. The US has accepted a former child soldier from the Congo (might have skills). In 2014 the US accepted 758 refugees from Afghanistan; how are they different from Syrian refugees? And here’s the kicker: the US accepted 19,651 refugees from Iraq last year! It is completely irrational to single out Syrians if you are going to take in Iraqis.

4.These refugees undergo at least 18 months of background checks, contrary to what Sen. Mario Rubio (whose parents were Cuban immigrants to the US) has alleged.

5. The Economist points out that since 2001, the US has admitted roughly 750,000 refugees and none, zero, nada have been accused of involvement in domestic terrorism aimed at the US homeland (2 Iraqis were accused of trying to help a terrorist organization back in Iraq).

6. The need is urgent. Of the some 22 million Syrians, a good half are homeless. About 7.5 million have been displaced within the country and some 4 million have been forced abroad. Little Jordan (pop. 6 million) has taken 800,000. Little Lebanon (pop. 4 million) has taken 1.2 million. Turkey (pop. 75 million) has taken 2 million. Sweden is accepting Syrian refugees without announcing limits. Germany is taking tens of thousands (though probably most of the refugees Chancellor Angela Merkel has accepted are not Syrians). Winter is arriving and the refugees have no proper shelter, clothing or nourishment. The US has to step up in the face of one of the world’s great humanitarian crises.

7. Syrian refugees are not guerrilla fighters or terrorists. They are fleeing the oppression of the Bashar al-Assad government or the brutality of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) or al-Qaeda. The are the victims of America’s enemies.

8. The US owes these refugees. Without the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, there would have been no al-Qaeda in that part of the world, and no al-Qaeda offshoots like Daesh/ ISIL. Why do the governors (most of whom supported the invasion of Iraq) think the US can go around the world sowing instability and being responsible for creating the conditions that lead to millions of refugees but then can avoid the responsibility of ameliorating those broken lives?

9. Some US politicians, such as Ted Cruz, have spoken of taking in only Christian refugees. That step would be unconstitutional. But let’s remember that such a policy would have excluded Albert Einstein from coming to the US in 1933, after the Nazis seized his property in Germany. You wonder without such refugee intellectuals, would the US have fallen behind Nazi Germany on, e.g., constructing an atomic bomb?

10. Cruz’s call for Christian refugees to be given special privileges reminds us of the the racist Chinese Exclusion Act, which derived in part from Christian American dislike of those they called “heathens.” Religion is often an element in the construction of ethnicity, so the privileging of Christianity has a long history of being a stealth form of racism.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+: “After Paris Attacks, Roughly Half of U.S. States Say No To Syrian Refugees”

40 Responses

  1. “8. The US owes these refugees”. Honestly this is the top reason for us to accept these refugees for the very reasons you point out. It should be number one on your list. I am frankly stunned that we created such a horrible snake-pit and only choose to rescue a paltry 10,000 from out of it – in a country of 300,000,000 that seems the perfect definition of mean-spiritedness or worse. And frankly the same could be said of the peoples fleeing from conflict or economic stress in countries points south of the Texas border. It is vile in the extreme and the only consolation will be how this reads centuries from now in the histories of our age. Just be thankful you are not a part of the vicious reptilian mob cheering on Trump’s “yoooge” wall.

  2. Juan,

    Thanks much for this list.

    #8 is enough of a reason….we caused the instability with our intervention in Iraq that the whole world including the UN inspectors were telling us to not do.

  3. I think we should round up all Apple devices, inspect them thoroughly and embed a tracker on each. Who knows what Steve Jobs’ Syrian refugee father forced him to do!
    Plus, there were close to a dozen Cuba-related terrorist incidents in Canada, some around the time Ted C. was born there. Can Ted prove that his dad was not a Cuban terrorist? And that he (Ted) wasn’t influenced by his dad?
    We need to be vigilant; truth is hard to find.

  4. Thank you for making this point so forcefully. This is a matter of considerable urgency, not only for of the refugees themselves, but also the countries that currently shoulder the brunt of the influx.

  5. The U.S. absolutely must step up and increase the number of refugees admitted and reduce waiting times as much as possible. We must also ensure that while waiting for clearance, they be treated with respect and dignity, and get help for plans once they are accepted. Anything less is unAmerican, unkind, and ridiculous. The xenophobic hysteria must be stopped, and that is up to each of us.

  6. “It is completely irrational to single out Syrians if you are going to take in Iraqis.” I’d say it’s completely irrational regardless of whether you are going to take in Iraqis!

  7. One reason why governors should refuse to accept Syrian refugees: Pandering to the lowest common denominator that forms their base.

    As for “8. The US owes these refugees” when it comes to debts and other obligations double standards will apply.

    There is also a precedent for refusing asylum to refugees – the SS St. Louis and its Jewish passengers. link to

  8. 11. The strategy of Daesh, and Al Qaeda before it, is to eliminate the Grey Zone, where Muslims live in peace with non-Muslims. Banning settlement of Muslim refugees, from Syria or elsewhere, implements this strategy.

    In the terminology (learned, alas, from an early manifestation of Tom Clancy airplane-reading whankery) of military theory, the fight over the existence, size, and health of the Grey Zone is the center of gravity of this enemy. The way to victory is to win this fight. Everything else, including decapitating, defeating, and destroying Daesh, is a side show and distraction unless it contributes to achieving this objective.

  9. I’m a grumpy old man who usually just responds with critical comments, but this is the kind of post that makes this blog worth reading every day.

  10. Any chance you want to rewrite your post: “Isil is a vast exaggeration: & no, it can’t shoot down planes.”

    Because it seems to me you should.

    • I argued in that piece that it is not a conventional state but a small terrorist organization. I have been further vindicated.

      • Sir,

        I think you have written a canonical piece on nomenclature: why Daesh vs IS*. I can’t find it. It seems, these days, like a Frequently Asked Question. Can you recommend the best linked reference?

        I have been arguing Daesh with a former Oxford don who pays the bills by teaching professional writing in several Gulf city-states. He argues that in objective-analytical-academic writing ISIS, or some variant (in that class I like ISIL, because the regional designation “the Levant” is useful, more so than the Franco-Britannic “Iraq and Syria”) is the preferred usage. He agrees that in a range of polemic applications (which I think all useful writing on the subject must, in part, be), the “Daesh” name is “almost essential.”

        • Jason:
          Da’esh, as I heard it explained on NPR/BBC, (I hope I have the accent mark in the right place) is a name that has negative overtones in that part of the world. Also, It identifies the crowd without using the name by which they want to be known, so it insults them at the same time, which takes some of their power and for once I don’t mind being insulting. I ‘m sure someone reading here will provide us a more precise meaning. John Kerry and I will do what we can…….

        • Yes, Mary, that is exactly my understanding. That is what I argue with my friend is the polemic rationale for using the Daesh term (dispensing with the accent, which so far as I know, which is not very far, carries little meaning in the English).

          The question concerns the non-polemical contexts, if there is such a thing. The label is intentionally insulting. It brings to mind, specifically, the disdain associated with the soles of the feet or shoes, used for trampling. Like the famous insult of flinging shoes at the despisee.
          My correspondent, if I understand him, argues that “neener neener neener” has a small space in adult conversation. I am having a hard time arguing with him.

        • Jason,
          Any even tiny thing that rubs them the wrong way is okay in this adult conversation, IMO. John Kerry and I agree. Don’t give the criminal thugs an inch. Your correspondent is entitled to his own opinion, agreed?

    • ISIS does NOT have any capacity to shoot down a plane that is above 10000 feet altitude.

      The Russian plane went down due to a 1 kg charge placed in the baggage area of the aircraft. Since modern bomb scanners can easily detect such a device, that means either the baggage was not scanned or someone walked the bomb around the scanner – that is, human malice.

  11. The supposedly Christian Bible Belt is well represented in the states refusing to accept refugees. Presumably, the parable of the Good Samaritan is no longer operative there.

    • You just now figured that out, Bill? I know some dedicated Christians who would do the Christ-like thing in any situation, but when it comes to politics, there are too many of the other kind for my comfort. Hypocrisy knows no boundaries.

      • The refugee part is a new observation, but the hypocrisy aspects were obvious to me probably before you were born.

    • I wonder if a poll would demonstrate whether or not non fundamentalist Christians (moderate Christians, liberal Christians, non Christians such as Spiritual But Not Religious, Agnostics, Atheists, Other Religions) would be more strongly in favor of accepting refugees than the Bible Belter fundamentalists?

  12. Any chance you have sent this excellent article to all the governors, congress critters, and self-elected presidential candidates?
    This is my first encounter with your blog and I can tell you tinbox has it right–this post makes this blog worth reading–and recommending. Thank you for putting it all out there so succinctly and plainly.

  13. Fake passport or not, the guy that blew himself up posed as a refugee and arrived in Europe through Greece a month ago.

    • OTOH, perhaps he arrived in Europe and then was recruited? I hear that anger is the driving force for these young people–although BBC says Daesh is now propagandizing school kids as young as four, so anger won’t continue as the main force. And some young person who has endured what migrants have to endure might just be angry enough to easily be recruited.

      • A good point, Mary. The people may be the sea that the guerrillas swim in, but it’s hard for me to see how Daesh recruits very successfully in a sea of refugees its brutality helped create.

        I may be naïve, but, personally, I look forward to the day when the first Syrian American brigade, commanded by Syrian Americans, lands in Syria to fight Daesh on equal terms.

        • Billy, I would expect young people whose lives have been turned upside down –and who have watched their people run through the mill just getting safely to european countries — might have a lot of anger. If these same young people were approached by our own recruiters, we just might get your syrian army faster than expected. Or maybe I just wish on stars…..

        • This is n excellent point. The failure of ISIS – even in its “homeland” – lands squarely on its inability to “swim like fish” amongst the sea of people. Even there it acts as a conquering horde and occupation by looters versus a government. That problem is magnified 1000-fold when operating in a primarily non fundamentalist Muslim area amongst local Muslims who despise you? That is why ISIS is being so readily caught in Belgium and France. How much of the involved “tracking down” involved phone tips by Muslims in the community?

  14. I saw on Facebook someone pointed out that if we let in these refugees, who knows but that they might do things like shooting down little children in schools, or shooting up movie theaters, or, oops, wait a minute we manage to do that without any help. To which I would add, it wasn’t any refugee who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring 600. Thank you Professor Cole. This article needs to be shared widely.

  15. Think the Economist is wrong here, as the Chechen brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon came here in 2002 (Chechens who actually came from Dagestan).

  16. Thanks to the NRA and its accomplices, ISIS will find getting guns will be a much easier proposition in the USA than in France or any other part of Europe.

    • I heard that the weapons came from suppliers created during the balkan wars. One war leads to another and the law of unintended consequences never fails

  17. Mr. Hollande’s announcement today that the French will honor their commitment to accept 30,000 refugees should restore Republican America to sanity. But it may not, of course.

    “Our country has the duty to respect this commitment,” Mr. Hollande said, noting that those fleeing areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State were being “tormented” by the “very same people who are attacking us today.”

    Dr. Cole’s point 7.

  18. Republican America sanity? Gotta think about that a bit.I’m more inclined to think that RAs will say that the French are stupid to take in even one refugee. Just check out the responses of half the american state governors. I despair of sanity in the USA.

  19. The French are taking in 30,000 refugees.

    Other European countries are likewise taking in numbers of a similar nature.

    The United States is, as I recall, taking in 18,000? Although we are vastly larger in both area and population? And that 18,000 would be a drop in the ocean in an American population of about 320,000,000?

    I also find it interesting that Jordan (with a population of about 8 million has “1.5 million Syrian (mainly, also includes a good number of Iraqi) refugees residing in the country. Jordan continues to demonstrate hospitality, despite the substantial strain the Syrian refugees are holding on national systems and infrastructure. It is also the only safe refuge available to thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing the Islamic State.”

    Likewise, Lebanon (with a population of around 5-6 million) has accepted and housed over 650,000 refugees (again mainly Syrian but to include a good number of Iraqis).

    A vast majority of their refugees don’t want to immigrate anywhere (nor do they want to live in refugee camps forever as many Palestinians did). They want to return home to their native homes.

    Almost none of these refugees are from any significantly fundamentalist Muslim groups. Those elements are welcome if Shia in Shia-controlled Iraq and if Sunni are welcome in Sunni-controlled ISIS. In fact, ISIS needs that latter group for recruiting / drafting fighters as “foreign fighters” make up a very small fraction of their forces.

    In addition, many of the vast majority of Syrian refugees are from the pre ISIS civil war of the various Syrian rebel factions (hardline fundamentalist Sunnis to somewhat moderate Sunnis in several factions) against Assad (and his various supporters).

    As a result, a great many of those refugees were very moderate and secular Baathist Sunnis and also Syrian Christians (who were strongly allied for decades with the Assads and the Baathists). The ASSUMPTION that these refugees (or even most of them) are very fundamentalist fanatical Muslims just doesn’t hold water. Most, by far, are Moderates. Many (from the Baathist camps) are secular. A good number of them are Christians (both from the allies of Assad in Syria and the Christian communities in Iraq).

    Western governments (as well as wealthy Arab and other Muslim countries) could have kept a lid on the refugee problem had nations like Lebanon and Jordan been aided significantly with helping set up modernized refugee camps – as well as modernized camps in other Coalition Arab countries.

    Yes, there would have still been a number of refugees (seeking political asylum, seeking protection from religious persecution, etcetera – but there would not have been a “flood” (a flood which pales in significance to the numbers in Jordan and Lebanon).

  20. I’ve never made a comment on any blog, website or article before because I either didn’t think I knew enough (or cared enough!) about the subject mattet to make a comment. However, even though I know very little about the actual topic of this thread and though I’m even going against one of my own self-imposed ‘rules’, I’m making a comment: It seems to me when an initial comment or statement, etc. evokes a lot of comments, and those are written by so many different people, and especially when some of the comments are written with an evident passion for the subject that, usually the comments start to take on an almost childish temperamental vein with a “I told you so”, “Well, my Dad can beat up your Dad”, and “You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about” and/or “Prove it” etc. My point is simply a ‘kudos’ & a ‘Tip ‘o’ the Cap’ to all the folks who contributed to this post for maintaining a higher level of comments throughout this post!! Oh, ‘by-the-by’, (where did that come from anyway?) I apologize for my ‘ramblin’, ‘bamblin’, ‘stumblin’, ‘bumblin’ and for the length of my attempt to make a brief comment!!

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