The can­di­dates on ter­ror­ism

Our view: Triv­i­al­iz­ing the de­bate over Syr­ian refugees dis­tracts from the real threats fac­ing the coun­try from vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Who would have thought the dis­place­ment of mil­lions of Syr­ian refugees from their homes by vi­o­lence and war would come down to an ar­gu­ment over a bowl of Skit­tles? Yet that’s where the 2016 cam­paign for the White House landed this week af­ter the son of the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Don­ald Trump Jr., tweeted a flip­pant mis­sive com­par­ing starv­ing, des­per­ate peo­ple to poi­soned can­dies. “If I had a bowl of Skit­tles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a hand­ful?” the mes­sage asked. “That’s our Syr­ian refugee prob­lem,” it said.

No, that is not the prob­lem — as Wrigley, the com­pany that makes Skit­tles, was quick to point out: “Skit­tles are candy,” the com­pany said in a state­ment. “Refugees are hu­man be­ings.” Trump Ju­nior may have thought he was be­ing clever, but the joke back­fired when the in­ter­net lit up with crit­ics con­demn­ing his com­ment’s seem­ing obliv­i­ous­ness to the plight of any­one out­side the world of wealth and priv­i­lege he in­hab­its.

He is, of course, also com­pletely wrong. This month, the Cato In­sti­tute cal­cu­lated that “the chance of an Amer­i­can be­ing killed in a ter­ror­ist at­tack caused by a refugee is1in 3.64 bil­lion per year.” By the Wash­ing­ton Post’s math, you’d need a bowl of Skit­tles the size of 1.5 Olympic swim­ming pools for the younger Mr. Trump’s anal­ogy to hold up.

What’s ironic about the re­turn of the de­bate about the safety of Syr­ian refugees is that it comes at a time when we have been con­fronted by the kind of ac­tual risks we face in the form of last week’s bomb­ings in New York and New Jer­sey. And un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther can­di­date has a good an­swer for at­tacks like those.

Mr. Trump has said he would keep Amer­i­cans safe by im­pos­ing a tem­po­rary ban on all Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion to the coun­try and strik­ing hard at over­seas ter­ror­ist groups like the Is­lamic State. Ms. Clin­ton, by con­trast, says she would wage an ag­gres­sive pro­pa­ganda cam­paign for the hearts and minds of Mus­lim youth to keep them from be­ing rad­i­cal­ized by vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists. She would also set up the equiv­a­lent of neigh­bor­hood watch groups to mon­i­tor peo­ple who un­dergo sud­den per­son­al­ity or be­hav­ioral changes sug­gest­ing they might be sus­cep­ti­ble to re­li­giously in­spired vi­o­lence and to re­port them to au­thor­i­ties.

Quite aside from the le­gal and moral is­sues raised by Mr. Trump’s pro­posal to halt Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S., how­ever, such a pol­icy clearly would not have stopped Ah­mad Ra­hami, the 28-year-old New Jer­sey man of Afghan de­scent charged with plant­ing bombs there and in New York’s City’s Chelsea district. Mr. Ra­hami had been in the United States for years and ap­par­ently was al­ready a nat­u­ral­ized ci­ti­zen when he be­came rad­i­cal­ized.

Sim­i­larly, Ms. Clin­ton’s plans to keep peo­ple al­ready in the U.S. from be­ing rad­i­cal­ized and to ask their fam­i­lies, friends, neigh­bors and re­li­gious lead­ers to re­port sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior won’t work if po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists hide their in­ten­tions, as Mr. Ra­hami ap­par­ently did. Some of the peo­ple around him ap­par­ently did no­tice that he re­cently had be­come more de­vout in his re­li­gious ob­ser­vances af­ter trav­el­ing abroad, but that hardly equates to ev­i­dence of ter­ror­ist in­cli­na­tions. More­over, im­mi­grants who have come to the U.S. flee­ing bru­tal au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes that main­tain power through le­gions of se­cret po­lice in­form­ers may be re­luc­tant to em­brace what looks like a sim­i­lar form of re­pres­sion here.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s prob­a­bly no way to com­pletely pro­tect our­selves against an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack, only more or less prac­ti­cal mea­sures to re­duce that risk. Most Amer­i­cans al­ready sus­pect that an at­tack like the ones in New Jer­sey and New York could hap­pen again. That’s why we hope that when that sub­ject comes up dur­ing Mon­day’s pres­i­den­tial de­bate, Mr. Trump and Ms. Clin­ton will both face up to that harsh re­al­ity and level with the Amer­i­can peo­ple about what they can and can’t be ex­pected to ac­com­plish — and avoid red her­rings like the Syr­ian refugees.

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