Incarceration Nation

The Refugee Crisis

We must not let ISIS’s crimes dictate how we address the refugee crisis—or privacy.

By Chelsea E Manning

Following the horrific attacks by ISIS terrorists in Paris and Beirut, we have rapidly seen blatant pandering to xenophobia on a disturbing scale and scope. Leaders throughout the U.S. and Europe have demanded that authorities stifle the flow of migrants seeking asylum, and to increase the size and depths of intelligence and law enforcement powers in the U.S. and Europe.

I don’t have all the answers—but I do know that blaming minority groups, refugees and immigrants, investing in gigantic surveillance platforms and calling for expansive legal authority and the creation of a neo-Gestapo and panopticon-style police state aren’t one of them.

Even in the weeks and months before the attacks, rightwing parties in Europe—most notably the National Front in France—have attempted to exploit a rising xenophobic sentiment following this year’s influx of migrants seeking refuge from Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Immediately following the attacks such fears have “gone viral” in a way that is disturbing and frightening.

In Canada, the plans to exclude unaccompanied male refugees from resettlement make me fear—in addition to the broader problems of severing young people from their existing support systems—for those queer and transgender folk who are fleeing from being hunted down and murdered indiscriminately.

In the U.S., federal lawmakers and dozens of state governors have called for the U.S. to stem the flow of those seeking asylum from Syria, culminating in the quick passage of legislation in the U.S. House making the approval of Syrian refugees into the U.S. administratively difficult, if not impossible—even though approvals of such refugees numbered less than 1,700 in 2014.

The CIA director, James Brennan, described the ongoing controversy over the intelligence communities’ mass surveillance and bulk record collection of U.S. citizens and non-citizens as “a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists.”

However, what the intelligence community and law enforcement authorities in the United States and Europe failed to acknowledge is the fact that even before and following the attacks in Paris and Beirut, none of their agencies had lost any of the capabilities that they had previously or that the reformed USA Freedom Act had not even taken effect.

The demands for more power by the powerful were described by Naomi’s Klein “Shock Doctrine” principle: people and organizations often exploit crises in order to justify seizures of power to meet their own political and economic ends. The inevitable xenophobic and pro-surveillance responses of the U.S., EU and Canadian governments were likely, as other analysts have pointed out, part of the strategy calculated by the very organization (ISIS) that perpetrated the ghastly atrocities.

The leaders of ISIS are canny strategists with a solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the west. They expect politicians and military leaders in the U.S. and Europe—particularly in the case of France and the United Kingdom—to overreact in response to successful attacks in the U.S. and Europe and territorial gains in Iraq and Syria, and they use those responses to recruit Europeans and Americans in their call to arms.

Like many other attacks, the attacks in Paris were tragic, horrific and coldly calculated. They may or may not have been preventable—it’s simply far too soon to know, assuming that we ever will. However, stoking the fears about a shadowy wave of terrorists coming from everywhere that there is warfare and strife is a disturbing, alienating and disproportionate response.

The people of France were the ones who delivered the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. nearly a century-and-a-half ago. Beside the statue for many years was a massive immigration station on Ellis Island. Describing the site of the statue as it was erected, the American poet Emma Lazarus wrote that the statue silently demands:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

It is a poem that defines America—and we and the EU would do well to remember it, especially in such turbulent times.

The Guardian, November 25, 2015