A lot has been said about Islamophobia. The word is one of many with the suffix "-phobia" in which the meaning of phobia has changed. Rather than "fear," the suffix "-phobia" now more often means a dislike or prejudice. The Oxford Dictionary defines "Islamophobia" as "dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force." Notice the absence of the word "fear" altogether. (A similar thing occurs in the usage of the word "homophobia.")
But I want to focus for now on the word phobia in its proper meaning: A paralyzing fear that overrides rational thought and normal behavior. There is, following the terror attacks in Paris of November 13, a renewed gush of phobia in exactly this sense, relative to Islam and Muslims.
I want to start by saying: Nothing in what I am going to say here should in any way be taken as a defense of the Paris attacks, a defense of any of the terrorists involved, or a defense of Islam in general. (And why would I even do that, as an atheist?) They were the work of madmen inspired by the psychopath who leads ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the world will be far better off when he and his organization are dead.
Be that as it may:
The purpose of terrorism is (as the word "terror" suggests) inspiring such fear in one's enemies as to compromise their ability to resist. At the very least, terrorism is intended to change the behavior of the enemy by creating a fear that affects every decision they make. In this, ISIS has already been completely successful.
The latest manifestation of the ISIS-created phobia is the response of Western nations to the wave of refugees from Syria: millions of desperate, innocent people, most of them women and children, who saw their entire society implode in an uncontrolled spasm of violence, facing them with a choice between leaving or dying. Many people in Europe and the United States were already resistant to accepting the refugees as immigrants before the attacks in Paris, but since that event, the resistance has exploded in response to -- let me quote myself from above -- a phobia [of Muslims] that affects every decision made by the sufferers of the phobia.
The loss of the ability to think rationally has, in particular, compromised the ability to (1) think through propositions to the logical conclusion and (2) see the obvious consequences of implementing those propositions. ((1) and (2) are not quite the same thing, though related, of course.)
The argument presented against admitting refugees from the Syrian civil war rests on the idea that, among the refugees, there may be radical Muslims intent on gaining entry to the country (U.S., Germany, England, whatever) for the purpose of staging terror attacks.
It's not possible to disprove the argument, but it is this argument that I am referring to in saying people are not following their thoughts to a logical conclusion.
The argument rests on the dubious premise that if terrorists are denied admittance to a country, they will simply say, "Damn, that didn't work. I'm stumped. Can't get in." But the existence of a wide array of methods of entering a country means that, if denied entry as refugees, terrorists will just do it another way. The idea that one can stop terrorists, any terrorists, from entering the country by not letting refugees in is ridiculous. If they want to be here, then they will be here, regardless of how many refugees are allowed entry. It is not only false that denying entry to radicals intent on terrorist acts will prevent some terrorists from entering; the fact is that it will not prevent any of them from entering.
Focusing on the U.S. in particular, there are many ways of gaining entry, other than declaring refugee status. It has always been the case that citizens of other countries could obtain a visa permitting them to enter the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including purely tourism. Foreign citizens can also enter with the stated intention (or at least goal) of establishing permanent residence. So if the priority, in deciding whether to admit refugees, is to prevent entry by terrorists, then it is necessary to seal off all methods of entry: not just admission of refugees, but all admission of foreign citizens by any means at all. When you are trying to seal off a room that has three doors, locking one of them accomplishes nothing. It doesn't even keep out one-third of the people who want to enter. It doesn't keep out any. Everyone who wants in will just use one of the other doors.
I can imagine many people (Republicans, mainly) who will respond, "Okay then, we'll lock all the doors. I like that idea. No immigration. No foreign visitors. Wall off the U.S. completely."
From everyone? All citizens of every country?
No, these people will say. Just from the scary ones. The Muslim countries. No problem with admitting people from England, say, or France.
No problem with France? Some of the Paris attackers were born in France.
Okay, then, these people will say, we should keep out people with Arabic names. Or Farsi. Or Pakistani. Anything that sounds Muslim.
Anybody remember the name of the Shoebomber, the man who tried and failed to take down a plane with hundreds of passengers by setting off a bomb hidden in his shoe? Since the Paris attacks I've heard several mentions of The Shoebomber, the name by which everyone remembers him. I don't think I've heard his actual name mentioned, and many people, by this time, may be unable to recall it. They probably would guess it was Mohammad Akbar, or something similar. The Shoebomber's name was Richard Reid, and he was a British citizen. So no, you can't keep out terrorists just by profiling immigrants or visitors by their names or country of origin.
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz had what he thought (or pretended to think) was a sure-fire way to protect us from terrorists among the refugees, which could, I suppose, be applied to all foreigners seeking entry: the admission of refugees, Cruz said, should be limited to Christians. How, he was asked, would it be determined which ones were Christians? (Never mind that the idea is unconstitutional on its face.) Just ask them, said Cruz. How would we know they were telling the truth, Cruz was asked? Cruz explained, with the air of someone stating the obvious to the ignorant, that there is no history of any radical Muslims claiming to be Christians when they entered the U.S. (No need to provide a link. You can find this statement in hundreds of places. Google "Ted Cruz refugees Christian no history".)
My jaw dropped open in amazement, when I heard that, at the stupidity of the idea that Muslims would never try to pose as Christians on entering the country because they have never done it before. Of course they have never done it before, Ted. They have never before had any reason to do so, never had anything to gain by doing so. You are proposing to give them a reason to do so, for the first time ever, and for reasons unknown you are sure none of them will. From a man legendary for saying breathtakingly crazy things, I think this set a record.
Among all of the politicians (presidential candidates, state governors, etc.) who oppose admitting refugees because some might be terrorists, what I want to see them do is think through to the logical consequences of their position and state that they oppose all entry into the U.S. from outside. Some people will still vote (enthusiastically) for them on that basis. But not enough to win. That's why they are ignoring the obvious.
Actually, some are claiming that the equivalence I've drawn between entering as a refugee versus entering on (say) a tourist visa is false, because it's easier to enter as a refugee, since the government is not doing any type of background checks for radical Islamic connections or looking for any other red flags.
This claim is made by people who are either lying on their own, or got the idea from someone who was. Cruz, for example, said in that same "no history of pretending to be Christians" interview that the refugees aren't vetted, that the government is not trying to check into their backgrounds for connections to radical Islam. I've seen comments by many people on Facebook that say the same thing. Sarah Palin said it on Seth Meyers' show, exposing herself to the embarrassment of being publicly corrected on national television by Meyers.
The truth is that it is harder to enter the U.S. on "refugee" status than in more casual ways. In response to the widespread misinformation that refugees are just allowed to walk into the U.S. without anyone checking on their background, the website whitehouse.gov posted the following last week (Nov. 20): Infographic: The Screening Process for Refugee Entry into the United States. Read through the document. It almost appears that, if offered a choice between entering as a refugee versus entering as a Nobel Prize winner, a terrorist would say, "Hmmm. I think I'll try to win that prize."
So much for saying refugee status is somehow an easier way in than normal immigration or a regular visa. "Thinking things through" leads to the conclusion that either refugees should be accepted, or else nobody from outside the country should be allowed any means of entry at all.
That is my take on point (1), above. Let me get to point (2): the consequences of making Islamophobia an official national policy.
Many people wonder: How does a good kid from an American Muslim family become radicalized, to the point of contacting ISIS and either traveling to Syria or Iraq to join the fight there, or entering a conspiracy to commit terrorists acts within the U.S.?
The answer is: By our treatment of perfectly innocent, perfectly loyal, perfectly peaceful Muslims as if they were criminals, as if they were human garbage, as if they were unworthy of even the most minimal common decency with which we treat other strangers who don't look Arabic. By, for example, taking a teenager who came to school excited to show his teachers something he had built and arresting him because of the fear that his device was a bomb, a fear generated purely by the fact that his name was Ahmed Mohamed rather than Chris Johnson.
Imagine living that life. Imagine that you are a quiet person, with friends, with no intention of ever committing a crime, but all around you your community is full of people who fear you, and treat you with contempt and hate, only because they associate you, for reasons completely beyond your control, with people elsewhere who have done terrible things. Imagine your emotions. Imagine your reactions. Imagine the urge building within you of wanting to strike back at an entire culture that hates you for your name, your ethnicity, and your religion.
The knee-jerk refusal, by so many people in America and other Western nations, to help desperate women and children fleeing from the deadly danger of a war they had no hand in starting, because of the fear that helping these women and children might expose us to terrorists, is causing exactly the danger that these people seek to avoid. Our country, and all of these countries faced with a stream of refugees, is increasing the risk of terrorism by fighting so hard to decrease it, in such an ignorant, irrational, ham-handed way.