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Refugees & the Paris Attacks

Why Germany's open-door policy is laying the groundwork for civil strife

Last night I tweeted something to the effect that Merkel’s open-door policy to refugees fleeing the Middle East makes attacks like what happened in Paris much more likely in the future. It was widely interpreted as my blaming the Paris attacks on refugees. It was not that; I did not believe last night that the refugees had anything to do with the Paris attacks, and I don’t believe it now. Still, I concede that that sentiment ought to have been expressed later, not hours after the attacks.

Oh … wow. After writing that paragraph, I checked the latest news, and The Guardian is reporting that one of the “refugees” actually may have been involved in the attack:

The holder of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen who died in Friday night’s attacks in Paris passed though Greece in October, a Greek minister told Reuters.

“The holder of the passport passed through the island of Leros on 3 October 2015, where he was identified according to EU rules,” said Nikos Toscas, Greece’s deputy minister in charge of policing.

A Greek police source told Reuters that European countries had been asked to check the passport holder to see if they had been registered.

While this heavily implies that one of the gunman came into Europe along with refugees, Syrian passports are known to be valuable currency amongst those trying to enter Europe, and it is not yet confirmed whether the holder of the passport is indeed the perpetrator.

So, that’s a thing that happened.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make last night is that it is very, very likely that within the millions Europe is taking in, primarily instigated by Angela Merkel, there will be a non-trivial number of terrorists. Far more worrying is the long-term threat of Islamist terrorism. Why? Europe is taking in millions of Middle Eastern Muslims indiscriminately (that is, without vetting), at a time when it manifestly cannot successfully assimilate the Muslims who are there. Whether this is the fault of racist Europeans, recalcitrant Muslims, or both, is beside the point. Europe has a serious problem with this, and it is going to lead to much more violence — not all of it caused by Muslims — and, most likely, the rise to power of the far right. Merkel’s act of mercy is laying the groundwork for violence, civil strife, and yes, terror.

The problem is not really one of terrorists coming in undercover with the refugees. The problem is Europe not being able to find jobs and establish lives for the massive numbers of refugees coming now, and those people — or, more likely, their sons — being highly susceptible to radicalization. Daniel Byman of Brookings wrote earlier this fall:

But Europe already has a terrorism problem, and the bigger danger is that radicalized European Muslims will transform the Syrian refugee community into a more violent one over time. Thousands of Europeans have gone to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and al-Qaida has long had a presence in Europe. These volunteers are sustained by radical preachers who condemn European ideals and support the idea of Muslims taking up arms. In addition, many European Muslims are alienated from their governments and societies, believing that as Muslims they never truly will, or should, belong.

If the refugees are treated as a short-term humanitarian problem rather than as a long-term integration challenge, then we are likely to see this problem worsen. Radicals will be among those who provide the religious, educational, and social support for the refugees – creating a problem where none existed. Indeed, the refugees need a comprehensive and long-term package that includes political rights, educational support, and economic assistance as well as immediate humanitarian aid, particularly if they are admitted in large numbers. If they cannot be integrated into local communities, then they risk perpetuating, or even exacerbating, the tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Europe. Despite their current gratitude for sanctuary in Europe, over time the refugees may be disenfranchised and become alienated. We’ve seen this movie before, where anger and disaffection fester, creating “suspect communities” that do not cooperate with law enforcement and security agencies and allow terrorists to recruit and operate with little interference.

The actual security risks now are low, but the potential ones are considerable if the refugee crisis is handled poorly. Policing, service provision, and local governance in general need to be provided for the long term. The worst thing European countries could do would be to invite in hundreds of thousands of refugees in a fit of sympathy and then lose interest or become hostile, starving them of support and vilifying them politically, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A liberal German journalist, just returned from the US after serving as a foreign correspondent, reacts with shock to what is happening there now:

What has happened to Germany? Does the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees justify forgetting almost everything that used to be important to us? The refugee crisis is, of course, a challenge. Solving it will take time, money and energy. But Germany has all the resources it needs to manage this crisis without surrendering its civility. Instead the mood in the country is akin to a drunken rage of the kind last seen in the beer halls of the 1920s Weimar Republic — that period of crude, uncivilized behavior that paved the way for Hitler’s rise and the most brutal decade in world history.

It’s well and good to deplore right-wing thugs who are threatening refugees and their supporters with violence. But these people are there, and must be dealt with. Is it really possible to shame them all out of their xenophobia and racism? Besides, are all of the skeptical Germans right-wing thugs? Der Spiegel reports that conditions are worsening:

Now the Meyers are planning to move out in November. They’re sick of seeing asylum-seekers sit on their garden wall or rummage through their garbage cans for anything they can use. Though “you do feel sorry for them,” says Ralf, who’s handed out some clothes that his children have grown out of. “But there are just too many of them here now.”

Hesepe, a village of 2,500 that comprises one district of the small town of Bramsche in the state of Lower Saxony, is now hosting some 4,000 asylum-seekers, making it a symbol of Germany’s refugee crisis. Locals are still showing a great willingness to help, but the sheer number of refugees is testing them. The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15 — more than ever before in a comparable time period — though it remains unclear how many of those include people who have been registered twice.

Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents.

But what Germany lacks more than anything is a plan to make Merkel’s two most-pronounced statements on the crisis — “We can do it” and “We cannot close our borders” — fit together. In the second month of what has been dubbed the country’s brand new “Welcoming Culture,” it has become clear to many that Germany will only be able to cope if the number of refugees drops.

But that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Tens of thousands of people are making their way to Germany along the so-called Balkan route; at the same time, Merkel’s efforts to reduce the influx through diplomacy and tougher regulations remain just that.

If you don’t think Merkel’s open-door policy is setting the stage for terrible things to come, you are not paying attention, or not willing to do so.