It turns out that at least one of the attackers involved in Friday’s horrific terror attacks in Paris came into the country in the tide of Syrian refugees. As a result, many American pundits who view immigration as the most important issue facing America have seen vindication for their position. Ann Coulter, who has become a sort of personal Baghdad Bob for Donald Trump, even went so far as to ludicrously claim that the attacks likely won the election for Donald Trump:
They can wait if they like until next November for the actual balloting, but Donald Trump was elected president tonight.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) November 14, 2015
The problem with this analysis, which definitely has a surface level appeal, is that it ignores the fundamental difference between the immigration challenges that are facing Europe and those that are facing America – and specifically the difference between the kind of immigration that led to the Paris attacks and the kind that Donald Trump purports to be able to stop.
Recall that the almost exclusive focus of the current political debate over immigration in America concerns the protection of the Southern border from the influx of illegal immigrants who are entering the country from Mexico and points southward. There are many good reasons to view such illegal immigration as a very serious and even potentially existential problem – from the perspective of the economic burden posed by these immigrants, the danger to public health, and the threat to America’s sovereignty.
As I wrote last week concerning Sweden and this same flood of immigrants:
Sweden has decided that they have accepted enough migrants, and so they have decided to institute border controls on basically all methods of transit into the country. For Sweden, it’s simply a matter of how many of these migrants they can realistically afford to hold, and also a growing concern about the effect of the migrant crisis on public health.
I am not here to debate whether the Swedes did the right thing by closing their borders or not. That’s really for the Swedes to decide. The important thing is that Sweden was able to close their borders when they wanted to, or at least to exercise a reasonable degree of control over who was entering their country.
However, while I agree strongly with the principle that control over the Southern border is a vitally important element of American policy, this does not mean that terrorism is the main reason for this concern, or even a particularly compelling one. After all, in the context of the United States, any terrorist of even marginal planning ability (and ISIS has definitely shown that) would enter the country via literally any other route other than flying to Mexico and trying to find a way to cross the Southern border. And in fact historically that is not how the terrorists who have entered this country have accomplished the feat.
Immigration is definitely a problem in America, but with respect to the threat of terrorism, it is a relatively minor aspect to the threat. Focusing on immigration – particularly on the importance of building a wall on the Southern border, ignores the much more troubling fact that the ideology of Islam in general constitutes a major threat.
Let me offer an example. Just earlier this year, Kenya suffered an attack of terrorism that was as bad or worse than the attacks in Paris on Friday. You may not have heard about it because Kenya isn’t a prominent tourist destination for Americans, but the attack was truly horrible and eerily similar to the attacks on Paris:
At least 147 people, mostly students, have been killed in an assault by al-Shabab militants on a university in north-eastern Kenya.
Heavily armed attackers stormed Garissa University early on Thursday, killing two security guards then firing indiscriminately on students.
Four of the gunman were eventually surrounded in a dormitory, and died when their suicide vests detonated.
It is the deadliest attack yet by al-Shabab.
The militants singled out Christians and shot them, witnesses said.
al-Shabab, of course, was home grown in Kenya and no one had to cross any borders to pull off this attack. They are just reflective of the reality that anywhere that a significant number of Muslims comes into contact with a significant number of Christians or Jews, violence is sure to follow. And I mean by that, of course, that 95 out of 100 times (or more) the Muslims will be the instigators of that violence.
I think it goes without saying that statistically, the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists or even violent people at all. But it is equally obvious to all but the willfully blind that the vast majority of terrorists are Muslims, and to the extent that this is a problem we want to stop, the right solution is not a physical barrier on one of our borders, it is extra scrutiny of the relevant group, however they plan to enter the country. That is not to say that the wall is a bad idea (it isn’t) or that I’m opposed to it (I’m not), it just misses the point with respect to solving this particular problem.
This specific problem is an Islamic one, not an immigration one.