Refugee crisis about survival, not terrorism

At least 4.1 million Syrians fled their homes since civil war broke out there in 2011, according to the United Nations. While most went to Turkey and Lebanon, a significant number went to Europe. Now at issue is whether Syrian refugees should be allowed into the United States.

President Barack Obama wants to increase the number of refugees allowed while many state governors, including our governor-elect, want to decrease that number. So who is right and how do we know?

First we need facts. So where did all these refugees come from, where are they going, and what kind of security threat do they pose? Triggered by the Arab Spring in 2011, the people of Syria joined protestors around the region in demanding either new reforms or the resignation of their president. President Bashar al-Assad responded with a violent security crackdown that intensified the peaceful protests into a civil war. From the chaos of that conflict, ISIS arose and took partial control of what used to be Syria triggering the refugee flow.

Geography drove the refugees’ escape route of choice; with deadly ISIS to the east, impassable deserts to the south, and a vengeful Assad at their backs, most fled north to Turkey. By 2014 it was three ways of death or one way of danger.

With Turkey reaching the limit of what it could absorb, the displaced began the long trek to Europe. They reached Europe in significant numbers, nearly a quarter of a million in 2015 alone. The countries hardest hit threatened to shut their borders, thereby destroying the freedom of movement which is a cornerstone of the European Union.

Then came the attacks in Paris, with ISIS claiming responsibility. ISIS seeks to start a civil war in France which it hopes will spread across Europe’s growing Muslim population. The attacks were intended to trigger a backlash against Europe’s Muslim population, both by European governments and citizens. ISIS hopes a backlash will convince Muslims their narrative about war between the west and Islam is true, which in turn will help ISIS get more recruits. The goal of ISIS is more death and destruction until there is nothing left to destroy.

Here in the U.S., who is right is not an either-or proposition. Sen. Rand Paul is right we need to tighten immigration laws and procedures to keep potential terrorists out. Obama is right we must not help ISIS by perpetuating the “war on Islam” falsehood.

During my Air Force years, I worked with Arab Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq. We have more friends than enemies in that demographic. ISIS just doesn’t want you to know it. Our governors are right to worry about potential security threats from refugees, but look at the facts: Since 9/11 over 750,000 refugees have been resettled here.

Not one has carried out terrorism. State and federal governments need to work together on this. I hope our governor-elect will do his part and make Kentucky part of the solution. The enemy is ISIS, not each other.

Jason Belcher of Harold is an Iraq veteran and author of the forthcoming Battlefield Countries: Power and Security in the 21st Century.