Punishing Syrian refugees will only help ISIS

The sheer terror that hit Paris on the 13th has everything to do with a monstrous ideology that has found a safe haven in the troubled pockets of the Middle East, and is spreading its vicious tentacles into Europe. It has little to do, however, with the refugee influx escaping Syria, Iraq, and Libya, which happens to be a victim of the same monster.

Punishing Syria’s refugees for ISIS’ blood quest in Europe and the United States is a distraction that plays right into the hands of the terror group and undermines fighting its threat globally. What is needed is a comprehensive approach in structuring and managing the refugee problem, while strengthening border security and surveillance over more than 3000 Europeans who have joined ISIS.

Identified Paris attackers: No refugees

The backlash targeting the Syrian refugees following the Paris attacks has more to do with the pre-existing fear and xenophobia towards Muslims in Europe and the United States than with the horror in Paris. The logic of the anti-refugee campaign is detached from the actual facts of the terror plot in Paris, and distracts from the security gaps that contributed to its occurrence.

When political leaders in the West use fear mongering and single out Muslim refugees leaving Syria, they are inadvertently supporting ISIS’ argument that the Muslim population is not welcome in the land of “infidels”.

Joyce Karam

One week into the attack, the facts from the investigation points to European nationals and not Syrian refugees as the terrorists behind the operation. Their ties to ISIS, history of criminal activity in Europe, and having visited Syria suggests a two-pronged threat from the attack: 1-The flow of European fighters to and from ISIS territory 2-Surveillance, criminal activity and extremism inside Europe.

Five out of the nine terrorists (seven dead, two remain at large) were identified as French citizens, and three of them lived in Belgium. The theory of the alleged Syrian refugee passport found next to one of the attackers outside Stade de France has been debunked by the German, U.S. and French intelligence. Agence France Press (AFP) quoted French investigators that all indications regarding the name on the passport (Ahmad Al-Mohammad) “point towards the fact he was a soldier loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad” who died months ago. A U.S. intelligence official told CBS that “the passport did not contain the correct numbers for a legitimate Syrian passport and the picture did not match the name.”

The passport narrative was further shred by the German authorities and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere that saying "there are indications it (Greece) is a false trail." The German official told AFP, adding that “it still cannot be ruled out that a terrorist headed for Europe and to France, probably via Germany.”

While the Syrian component and threat is very much present in the Paris plot, with five of the attackers believed to have visited Syria, there is nothing credible thus far that links the plot to the refugees. All the known attackers are European with criminal history in Europe, and three of them were on the radar screen of suspected terrorist connection. These facts should beg questions about internal European security and surveillance, and ISIS’ operational reach through European recruits to the continent.

Blaming Refugees helps ISIS

Deflecting attention from the core problem of ISIS recruiting and dispatching terrorists from Syria into Europe via Turkey undermines efforts to address the border threat. Focussing on a refugee population escaping barrel bombs, rape and starvation instead of Europe’s internal homegrown threat works also in the favor of the terrorists.

The perpetrators of the Paris attacks come from the same ranks of those oppressing the Syrian people and turning them into refugees.

Joyce Karam

Politically, the hostile language towards the refugee population perfectly fits the narrative of ISIS who labeled those fleeing Syria as “sinners” going “to the land of the war-waging crusaders.” Last September, and as the world was mourning the 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shores of Turkey, ISIS accused in its magazine Dabiq those leaving of apostasy for being “under the constant threat of fornication, sodomy, drugs and alcohol.”

For ISIS, holding the Syrians and the Iraqis hostage in its state of thugs and rapists is key to its survival. Subjugating entire cities and indoctrinating a new generation of Syrian and Iraqi children with an ideology of hate and terror is how the group will sustain itself and its future. The rulers of the so-called Caliphate could care less about the fate of the refugees irrelevant of their religion. In Paris, ISIS is attempting to incriminate a whole population with a cowardly terrorist hiding behind a fake passport.

When political leaders in the West use fear mongering and single out Muslim refugees leaving Syria, they are inadvertently supporting ISIS’ argument that the Muslim population is not welcome in the land of "infidels". While security concerns are valid towards anyone crossing the borders from Syria, and while more regional countries have to do their share in taking in refugees, vetting and structured resettlement programs is the way to address the crisis. Singling out and blocking the refugees, or marginalizing them in camps and under miserable living conditions is a recipe for ISIS’ infiltration.

The perpetrators of the Paris attacks come from the same ranks of those oppressing the Syrian people and turning them into refugees. Confusing the victim with oppressor is no way to defeat the terrorists or do justice for those murdered in cold blood in Paris, and others risking everything to flee ISIS.

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Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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