In the Fall of 1982, people started dying in Illinois after consuming Tylenol capsules which had been poisoned with cyanide. Panic quickly ensued as no one was certain whether their pain-reliever was safe. Within one week of the first death, Johnson & Johnson (the makers of Tylenol products) had suspended advertising and production and had issued a nationwide recall of all Tylenol products. After discovering that the perpetrator had tampered with bottles taken from stores and later replaced, Johnson & Johnson resumed production, developing in time the use of solid caplets rather than capsules. The criminal was never caught.
One result of this act of pharmaceutical terrorism was that the food, drug and consumer product industries began to devise the tamper-proof seals and packaging we are so familiar with today, and the problem of “product terrorism” has receded from consumer consciousness.
The analogies between the “Tylenol scare” and terrorism through immigration are not difficult to discern. Our present problem in America pits the call to compassion against the need for security. We want to assist refugees in resettling here in the land of opportunity and freedom, but we don’t want to allow in those who, under the guise of refugee status, wish to do us harm. How do we solve this conundrum?
First, some definitions: An immigrant is one who seeks to leave his homeland (for any of a number of reasons) and resettle in the USA (whether legally or illegally); a refugee is one displaced from his country of origin who fears persecution due to “… race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” One seeking asylum faces the same legitimate fears but has already made it to US shores (whether legally or not) and applies for legal status so as not to be deported back into harm’s way.
The number of legal immigrants obtaining permanent resident status in the USA has averaged roughly one million per year since 2003. In 2015, it was 1,051,031. Again, since 2003 the number of refugees resettled here yearly has averaged roughly 58,000 from all over the world (the actual ceiling is determined annually by the President). In 2015, the actual number was 69,933 (with a ceiling of 70,000; for 2016, President Trump has set the ceiling at 50,000). The total number of those granted asylum has averaged about 25,000 per year since 2003. In 2015, the total was 26,124. Of these, roughly one-fourth were from China.
As anyone can see, we are not working with astronomical numbers. Less than 100,000 people enter the USA as refugees and asylees annually. That seems reasonable. On the other hand, if only one tenth of one percent of that number had terrorist intentions (100 or less) and they coordinated their efforts successfully, this nation would be paralyzed.
Why should we be concerned about terrorists entering through the refugee population? Primarily because ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups have publicly declared their intention to infect the teeming refugee populations from the Muslim world with their sleeper agents, and have succeeded at this already in Europe. The ten terrorists who carried out the Paris Bataclan and Brussels attacks in the last 16 months, killing 215 people and wounding many more, had entered Europe legally as “refugees” through the Balkans. Since then, there have been numerous attacks and attempts in other parts of Europe by so-called refugees. Are we confident enough to believe that the USA is immune because of our “careful” vetting process?
Our intelligence agencies’ leaders have already declared their considered opinion that there is no way to guarantee that potential terrorists do not slip through the vetting process. Tashfeen Malik, the Pakistani-born San Bernardino co-terrorist who along with her husband murdered fourteen people at a Christmas party, had been vetted and passed by five different US intelligence agencies. According to a report issued in June 2016 by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, 580 individuals have been convicted in the US of terror-related crimes since 9/11. Of those, 380 are foreign-born nationals. Interestingly, 72 of that number hail from the seven countries listed on the “Trump ban” executive order of January 27th. There is no question that the large majority of those convicted link themselves to Islam.
So, in terms of immigration concerns, it seems that a greater threat is posed to America from Muslim immigration than from non-Muslim immigration. Yet on the other hand, only a tiny percentage of Muslim immigrants are involved in terror-related activities. On top of that, our laws and values prohibit our government from using a “religious test” on those seeking to immigrate here.
President Trump is seeking a way around this by arguing that his administration is seeking to halt immigration from countries that have been hotbeds of terrorism and that lack the normal infrastructure needed for accurate vetting (due in large measure to civil wars or other internal strife). “It has nothing to do with religion. There is no ban on Muslims.” Supporters of this note that the total populations affected comprise maybe 15% of all Muslims, meaning that 85% of the Muslim world is welcome to apply for immigration. You see, obviously there is no religious test going on.
But this is a smokescreen. There is a religious test, and it involves believers in Islam, not members of any other religious group. Why? Because Islam is not like any other religious group. It contains not only personal rules of piety, but also a totalitarian political agenda which must be obeyed. Its intention, going back to Muhammad and his earliest followers, is not only to make individuals submit their lives to Allah but all nations as well. The world one day must live willingly or by force under the rule of Shari’a – Allah’s perfect law for humanity. Every Muslim is to yearn for and work for this ultimate goal – otherwise, he/she is not a good Muslim by orthodox standards.
When our founding fathers made the freedom of religion one of this nation’s key rights, they had no notion that the religio-political animal we know as Islam would ever wish to become a claimant. What would they say of a totalitarian religion which says, “We not only want the right to practice our religion freely in your country, but to work secretly or openly for the overthrow of your Constitution so as to make Islam the religion of America and Shari’a Law its unalterable, new constitution.” Never before has America faced a totalitarian ideology clothed in religious garb. This is what makes vetting potential Muslim immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers so difficult.
The problem is this: if every Muslim believed wholeheartedly in the totalitarian agenda of Islam, then it would be prudent for the USA to ban all Muslims from living in this country; but most Muslims coming to the West want little or nothing to do with jihadism, which is the primary way to spread the hegemony of Islamic rule. How then do we vet Muslims accurately so as to know where they stand?
There is no question the United States of America has every right to accept or reject any applicant for immigration, as do all other countries. No non-citizen of the USA has the right to demand entrance to this country. As a nation, our federal government is tasked with protecting the welfare of its citizens and defending its existence against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Immigration is a matter of grace, not of rights, and so when our officials determine that a particular individual or group pose a potential threat, they are right to impose a temporary moratorium or a permanent ban unless and until the threat disappears.
In the last century, our way of life faced two threats from totalitarian movements. How we responded was instructive. The first was the Nazi-Japanese threat of WWII. After being attacked at Pearl Harbor, we were thrust into a war we had tried to avoid. As we battled in the Pacific and in Europe, at home we faced the question as to what to do with immigration from the lands of the enemies. The flow of people from Germany and Japan slowed to a standstill, and rightly so. Fear and suspicion even led to the creation of internment camps for those of Japanese descent (whether American citizens or not) both to prevent them from possibly aiding and abetting the enemy, and to protect them from self-styled vigilantes in our midst. After the defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese Empire, with the schemes of these totalitarian movements lying in ashes, our country began to lift its immigration restrictions and accept Japanese and German applicants free from these defunct dreams.
The second, of course, was communism. As a philosophy and form of government it was antithetical to our American system and values. When it came to the question of allowing self-declared communists to immigrate to this country, the answer was clearly no. Could a Russian, Chinese or Cuban person settle in America? Certainly, but only as a refugee fleeing the Communist regimes, or by proving that he/she rejected communism and embraced our democracy.
Nazism and communism are by and large now discredited movements found principally in history books. But another totalitarianism has been regaining strength after lying dormant since the rise of the Enlightenment and Industrialist West. It is the movement of core Islam – the 5 religious pillars of personal piety wedded together with the sixth pillar, that of jihad. Its goal is to regain its past glory as a continent-spanning Caliphate, and to springboard to the ideological and political/military conquest of the rest of the world. This is not the self-styled dream of some group of wild-eyed radical fanatics, but rather the vision which springs from the pages of the Qur’an, the Hadith traditions and the earliest Sira (Islamic biographies) of the life of Muhammad. This world view is hardwired into the authoritative, religious texts of Islam. Whether a given Muslim accepts these supremacist teachings or not is a different matter altogether, but there is no question that these imperatives are an inherent part of the religion as a matter of record.
So when it comes to vetting members of a totalitarian religious ideology, how should our government proceed, given that we wish to protect the right of religious freedom? I believe that like Nazism and communism, the ideology of Islam in its aspirations of conquest is a danger to the ongoing existence of the United States. If there were a precise way to separate the private religious practices of Islam from its totalitarian political agenda, and we could clearly discern those who are Muslims in religious practice only from those who embrace the conquest agenda of core Islam, then it would be easy to vet Muslim immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. But such is not the case.
The waters are muddied even further by the teaching attributed to Muhammad which permits a Muslim to mislead non-Muslims as to his identity when the truth would put his life and/or the cause of Islam in danger (for more on five types of deception allowed by Muslim law, see here).
So in the midst of an immigration interview, a jihadi Muslim can with good conscience provide false documentation and deny any jihadi leanings in response to questions. It is up to the interviewer and the immigration system to catch him in his lies. As we have seen, our bureaucracy is not too skilled in this department.
Hence we are left with bumbling attempts to safeguard our nation from the latest and most insidious form of totalitarianism, one which unlike Nazism and communism wraps itself in the protected garb of religion. President Trump’s executive order really is a covert attempt to ban Islam (“all Muslims”) from our shores, but he can’t do that openly for it would scream of “unacceptable (to the ignorant)” religious discrimination. So his administration crafts a relatively limited moratorium on immigration of any kind from seven Muslim nations which are singled out not for being Muslim (though that’s the real reason) but for being “terror-prone.” Interestingly, the order requires the Directors of Homeland Security and State to submit a list of other countries recommended for inclusion with the seven “banned nations,” and allows additions by the President to this list at any time in the future. One wonders what will be the common factor linking the future list-members….
Though this executive order has been “stayed” by the courts, the administration is working on a “new and improved version” to be unveiled sometime this week. It will meet the same strong headwinds from the liberal establishment and from First Amendment supporters who believe that Islam is “just like any other religion.” Until our vetting process is able to distinguish between “peaceful Muslims who renounce jihad” and “peaceful-appearing Muslims who embrace jihad” (which may in the end be a fool’s errand), we will continue to fight amongst ourselves as to the right approach to Muslim immigration. Perhaps the only thing to settle the debate will be when one or more vetted Muslim immigrants succeeds in another 9/11-scale terror attack. I hope this does not happen. But if ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other core Muslim groups have their way, it will. It is only a matter of time and opportunity.