Terrorism. Security. Facts.

“Educate yourself!”   That’s the tag line of our latest Ethics Unwrapped video – Propaganda: Ethics & the Media. In these divisive times, it is our responsibility as citizens to do so. American values are clashing and we all have a moral obligation as citizens of a democracy to protect our values and to ensure that we support policies based on facts, not fear.

As the descendant of Mennonite refugees who came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution, I am particularly bothered by the new administration’s immigration ban. And in college I wrote a 70-page paper on the Japanese internment during World War II—an action driven by fear rather than facts. I wrote then, and believe now, that the internment remains one of the greatest blights ever on America’s image as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

So it is now my job to educate myself to determine whether the damage this ban does to the substance as well as the image of our democracy is justified. A recent study by a conservative think tank indicates that the number of Americans killed by terrorist immigrants from the seven countries targeted by the new administration’s executive order is exactly zero. So, the ban appears to be driven by fear, not facts.

But are the fears completely unfounded? Of course not. There are terrorists in the world. In the Middle East, Muslim terror attacks by groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are numerous and devastating. And although only a tiny percentage of recent terrorist attacks in Western Europe have been committed by Muslims, some were very deadly and all are scary. It is not unreasonable to increase security measures. Obviously, America cannot take everyone who wants to come here. And it is not realistic to think that we could even take everyone who needs to come here in order to escape the ravages of war and terror in their own countries.

But we are a nation of immigrants and we all benefit from immigration. Every day I teach young Muslim men and women who are bright, kind, caring, and entrepreneurial. They embody American values as well as anyone possibly could. Our economy and our country are immeasurably better for their presence. Most of my Muslim students are American citizens, but universities in other countries like Canada realize that the new administration has given them a leg-up in competing for the best and brightest foreign students—a development that could cost the U.S. billions of dollars.

Ultimately, I believe that the new administration’s policy is driven more by fear than by facts. I predict that the damage it will do to our democracy (and our economy) will greatly outweigh the improvement in our security, if any. Indeed, I worry, as do Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, that the travel ban will endanger our security by giving ISIS a huge propaganda victory. This is exactly the type of response ISIS hopes to provoke.

I am as big a physical coward as you will find. I value security as much as the next person. But the Cato Institute calculates that the likelihood of being my killed by any refugee from any country is just 1 in 364 billion a year. That’s a risk even a wimp like me can accept.

One side (Alnatour) points out (accurately, as nearly as I can tell) that in 2013, more Americans were killed by toddlers playing with guns (5) than by Muslim terrorists (3). The other side (Tuttle) points out that if the Tsarnaev brothers had not been so incompetent, that “3” could have been 30, or 300. These are more data points to consider. And I will.

I pledge to continue to educate myself. I have a moral responsibility to evaluate new facts and to change my mind if that is justified. I have been wrong before and will be again. But it will take a lot to convince me that the damage to our democracy’s freedom of religion that is being inflicted by this new policy is justified.

 

Resources

Amar Alnatour, “Muslims Are Not Terrorists: A Factual Look at Terrorism and Islam,” The World Post, Dec. 9, 2016.

David Bier, “Five Reasons Congress Should Repeal Trump’s Immigrant & Refugee Ban,” Jan. 28, 2017, at https://www.cato.org/blog/five-reasons-congress-should-repeal-trumps-immigrant-refugee-ban.

Rahul Choudaha, “Impact of Temporary Ban on Seven Muslim Countries on International Students,” DrEducation, at http://www.dreducation.com/2017/01/temporary-ban-on-muslim-countries-foreign-students.html.

Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (2004).

John McCain and Lindsey Graham, “Statement by Senators McCain & Graham on Executive Order on Immigration,” at http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2017/1/statement-by-senators-mccain-graham-on-executive-order-on-immigration.

Alex Nowrasteh, “Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis,” Sept. 13, 2016, at https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/terrorism-immigration-risk-analysis.

Richard Reeves, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese Internment in World War II (2016).

Craig Smith, “Canada Beckons International Students With a Path to Citizenship,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 2017.

Henry Smith, The Story of the Mennonites (3d ed. 1950).

Ian Tuttle, “Are All Terrorists Muslims?, National Review, Jan. 14, 2015.

Mara Rose Williams, “Trump Promise of Muslim Ban Could Cost the U.S. Billions from International Students,” Kansas City Star, Nov. 16, 2016.

 

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