Countdown Vol. 13 No. 36: Solidarité

Posted on November 17, 2015 in Countdown

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Terror in Paris and Beirut

We watched with horror as ISIL extended its nihilistic campaign of terror to Paris and Beirut last week. These attacks do more than kill and maim innocents, they attempt to shatter a way of life and make the world feel small and fraught with peril. A kinetic response is the first thought, but military tactics can’t strike at the core of a group of terrorists that believe in nothing but to inject dread into the lives of decent people worldwide. It is incumbent on all of us to resist succumbing to this terror lest we become paralyzed with fear of what should happen if we continue to simply live our lives. The sites of the attacks were chosen with purpose to strike people at their most vulnerable—living their everyday lives. ISIL can make claims about their ultimate objectives though their success is in making the world smaller for all of us—in thinking twice when we go to a stadium, a concert hall, a coffee shop, a bar or restaurant. ISIL is at war with normalcy, the quotidian, and in responding to this invasion into our most vulnerable and intimate space we must not retreat and close ourselves off to the rest of the world. We must not allow horrific attacks to bore into who we are and harden our hearts to a world in need.


The President is Right, We Must Not Betray our Values

Fear kills who we are as a society. If we give in to the fear that terrorists inflict, we will find it hard to come back. Following the early and ultimately false reports that the Paris terrorists may have entered Europe as a refugee, over half of our nation’s governors have said that they will no longer accept Syrian refugees to their states. In reality, the governors can not do much to block the resettlement of refugees – but their words carry weight. The statements range from temporary restrictions to hysteria borne out of ignorance or bigotry. Pundits can pontificate about imagined threats, but elected officials should be held to a higher standard. President Obama spoke very clearly on this issue while responding to press at the G20 summit. He highlighted the fact many appear to be ignoring, that the refugees are victims of this same terrorism, “that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” The tens of thousands of refugees leaving Syria are escaping a dictator’s brutal crackdown and a terrorist group that built itself up in the chaos of a crumbling Syrian state. To say that we will close our doors to people that have had their lives shattered betrays who we are as Americans and citizens of the world. Make no mistake ISIL attacks all of us in every act of savagery they commit. This is not a time to put up barriers and paint the world in black and white as groups like ISIL would have it. Those calling for a ‘religious test’ should be condemned in the strongest terms. President Obama said those suggesting we admit only Christians and not Muslims are “shameful” and “not American.”  Refugees are not the enemy and we must not position them as a threat to be shut out. This is a time to embrace openness to find strength in solidarity to end ISIL and the fear and hate they seek to spread.


ISIL Strategy

The G20 convened in Antalya, Turkey earlier this week for its annual summit. Due to the terrorist attacks, much of the conversation was centered around strategies for countering ISIL. While no new strategy to take on ISIL was decided, President Obama explained current U.S. strategies. In his speech, Obama said the U.S. is approaching ISIL from the angles of: “military, intelligence, economic, development, and the strength of our communities.” These efforts include airstrikes, a coalition with Iraqi ground troops, border controls, information sharing, donating aid in the form of food, clothes, and generators, and the diplomatic Vienna talks. The day before President Obama shared his strategies, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said frankly “We don’t have a strategy in Syria as it relates to ISIL.” With Burr was Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who agreed, saying “You can’t fight ISIS unless you are willing to put a strategy together” that includes all other countries with possible ISIL presence, such as Libya, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, along with Iraq and Syria.


Clarity on the FBI’s 2014 Hate Crimes Statistics

Earlier this week the FBI released its 2014 Hate Crimes Statistics report. The report suggests that there was an estimated 8 percent drop in total hate crimes committed in 2014, but this statistic is misleading. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the FBI’s Hate Crimes statistics are a questionable source because of chronic underreporting.  Although the FBI has reported that over the last 20 years between 6,000 and 11,500 total hate crimes are committed in the U.S. each year, BJS studies suggest that number is 25 to 40 times higher.  Most troublingly, the FBI reported an increase in anti-Muslim hate-crime incidents, from 135 to 154 in the last two years. It needs to be reasserted that the figure of 154 anti-Muslim hate crimes is very likely to be significantly less than the actual number of anti-Muslim hate crimes committed in 2014. The report did not include anti-Arab hate crimes as that data collection began only this year.


Third Democratic Debate

In the wake of the tragic attacks last week, the second Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa shifted its focus from domestic policy issues like the economy to foreign policy and terrorism. When important news breaks unexpectedly, it’s important to note how presidential candidates handle themselves in these situations. Front-runner Hillary Clinton noticeably had difficulty responding to Sanders' and O’Malley’s critiques on her policy. They cautiously attacked the former Secretary of State on her ties to Wall Street and her foreign policy decisions in Libya and Iraq, which they claim led to the growth of ISIL. All three candidates, however, agreed on the United States’ “moral responsibility” to welcome Syrian refugees fleeing the terrorist group and war. On the question of defeating ISIL, however, the debate re-focused on discussing the terminology used to discuss terrorism. Democratic leaders are often criticized by their Republican counterparts for not using the term “radical Islam.” In clarifying their position, the Democratic candidates affirmed that the United States is in fact not at war with Islam. Clinton suggested we reach out to Muslim countries “to have them be part of our coalition.” In calling for additional Muslim support, O’Malley called American Muslims to be the country’s “first line of defense,” saying that American Muslims “understand that this brutal and barbaric group is perverting the name of a great world religion.” In contrast, most of the Republican candidates continue to aggressively refer to ISIL’s attacks as religiously-motivated when in fact they should refer to the attacks by what they are: acts of violence driven by a nihilistic worldview.