Column: Now is not the time to turn our backs on refugees

A sign welcoming Syrian refugees is placed at the entrance to the office of the Arizona governor during a rally at the Arizona Capitol Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined a growing number of governors calling for an immediate halt to the placement of any new refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris. The U.S. State Department says Arizona has received 153 Syrian refugees so far this year. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

On Nov. 13 the world was shocked by the terrorist attacks in France that killed more than 120 civilians. Soon after the atrocities, the Islamic State claimed responsibility. As a result, a fresh wave of Islamophobia swept over much of the United States. We saw it here at UConn, where one student took it upon themselves to vandalize a Muslim student’s door with the words “killed Paris.” Perhaps most depressing of all, many state governors are now declaring that they will no longer accept Syrian refugees. 

Let me make one thing very clear. Terrorism has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. There is nothing inherently wrong, violent or barbaric about the religion of Islam or its scriptures. Terrorism is only associated with Islam because people have twisted its meaning to align with their ideology of hate.

At its root, the radicalism and violence of groups like ISIS are mostly due to the extreme environment in which they live. Many countries in the Middle East are lacking in stability and leadership. Many people have little in the way of wealth, food, shelter and safety. It is only in such a desperate environment that such hate and disregard for humanity can thrive. It just so happens that the region is also predominantly Muslim. It could have just as easily been any other religion or ethnicity. 

The Syrian Refugee Crisis is unprecedented in size and effect. More than 4 million people – out of a country that originally had about 22 million people – have fled from violence. These people have next to nothing. They have had to rely on what little they could bring with them or what humanitarian aid they can find. 

But what many governors have said in light of the recent attacks is that they will not allow any Syrian refugees into their states. Many have also asked the president to stop allowing any Syrian refugees into the country. These governors, who are almost all Republicans, fear that terrorists will infiltrate the country in the wave of refugees and carry out attacks against U.S. citizens.

 All of these leaders that are saying “it isn’t worth the risk because a few terrorists could slip through” have no idea the unimaginable suffering that so many of these people are going through. There are few of us who can. They so desperately need our help. And the majority of people killed by ISIS have been Muslims. People escaping from the region hate and fear ISIS more than we ever could. It is cruel and immoral to leave these people to their fate based on our unfounded fears. 

There is a risk when allowing Syrian refugees into the country. However, there is a very extensive screening process that all refugees must go through before they come to the United States, taking years in some cases. Also, out of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have come from the Middle East since 1980 none have committed an act of terrorism. All terrorist attacks in the last 35 years have come from non-refugees utilizing visas or other methods, and the Paris attacks were no different.

I should point out that there are some states that have not declared open opposition to settling refugees. In fact, Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut was one of the few to reaffirm his commitment to welcoming them. Chris George, the executive director of the Integrated Refugee Immigrant Services in New Haven, had this to say on the issue: “I have great faith in the people of Connecticut. They are not going to react in a panicky, knee-jerk way. They deeply believe and support this great American tradition of welcoming refugees. They’re not going to play into the hands of terrorists and throw it out because of the Paris atrocities.”

When Muslim refugees are welcomed it undercuts the legitimacy of ISIS because Muslims have an alternative to their hateful ideology. Alternatively, we can let our prejudices rule our actions and drive people into the ISIS camp because they nowhere else to turn for acceptance.

It is understandable if people are nervous about accepting refugees. But if there were no risks involved we wouldn’t call the situation a crisis. It may be difficult but we need to conquer our fear. More than anything terrorists want us frightened. If we show them our resolve, show the refugees from Syria and the Middle East that there is hope for survival and a better life, then we are taking a strong step toward the eventual defeat of ISIS.


Jacob Kowalski is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.