Policy Wonk: Fear, political posturing, bring out the worst in us

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The most recent wanton killing of French (and other) people in Paris has ended. The anxiety in France and the grieving of the French people has not ended, and it won’t end for a long time. Fear and anxiety in other major cities in Europe, and the U.S., have understandably risen, as the realization of their own vulnerability to similar extremist attacks by ISIS groups dawns.

A search for the perpetrators of the Paris massacre, and heightened security in a large number of European and American cities, is certainly appropriate. So too is the closer cooperation of Western nations in large-scale and long-term security efforts to find and root out terrorist individuals and cells.

What is not appropriate or effective in stemming ISIS terrorists or ideology is a “bomb the hell out of them” strategy trumpeted by too many political opportunists in our country. The collateral damage would be huge.

Thousands of innocent men, women, and children would be killed. Our actions, reminiscent of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden, would be no better than, or different from, the actions of the terrorists who killed innocent people in Paris.

Also inappropriate (and ineffective at stamping out ISIS) are hasty efforts at revenge. I understand that French pride and dignity needs to bomb ISIS targets in Syria. But soon a more patient, more concerted effort by the U.S., European and Mideast nations (including Russia, which also has been stung by ISIS terrorism) must be unfolded.

This strategy alone, applied for as long as it takes, can stamp out ISIS.

Finally, it is absurd to see the mindless attacks in Paris as the harbinger of some epic struggle between Muslims and the West. We are not at war with Muslims.

Muslims are a quarter of the world’s population, scattered in dozens of nations. They are as appalled by the attacks in Paris as Western nations. Muslims and Christians together need to root out a small barbaric fringe of the Muslim world in the same way that we in the West have sought to root out the KKK, Mafia, and drug lords in our society.

Equally absurd is the anxiety-driven movement in the U.S. that an ISIS attack would emanate from Syrian refugees, the desperate victims of war. The fear mongers would prevent the resettlement of these refugees in the U.S., although many of these people are old women and children. The fact that a large number of these refugees are Muslim seems to justify these fears.

Further justification is found in an inconclusive report that one of the Paris terrorists was said to have infiltrated a group of refugees fleeing Syria. The fact that this terrorist could as easily have joined refugee groups fleeing from a dozen other Mideast countries is ignored.

Also ignored is the fact the Syrian refugees are as much the innocent victims of ISIS terror as those who were killed in Paris, and the fact that most of the recent Paris terrorists (and those in the January 2015 attacks) were French or Belgian citizens, not Syrians.

But fears and anxieties, fear-mongers and political opportunists are not bound by logic or facts. They readily conflate a barbaric fringe group, who claim Muslim roots, with all Muslims. Because this fringe group (ISIS) has seized land in Syria, the fear-mongers demonize all Syrians, including those fleeing ISIS atrocities in Syria.

That this string of fears, anxieties, and ignored facts has captured the minds of many Americans can hardly be denied. None, however, have been captured more readily than those on the political right. Whipped up by presidential wannabes and election-year politics, the purveyors of fear assert that keeping Syrian refugees out of the U.S. will safeguard the nation.

In the name of safety, the fearful and political opportunists forget who we are –that innocent victims of war are the very people the country has taken in for over 200 years, the very people we immortalize on Statue of Liberty inscriptions, the very people who have helped make the country great.

One is reminded of the baseless fears that interred 120,000 Japanese Americans at the start of World War II. Shame on us then, and shame on us now if we succumb to similar baseless fears.

And what of us in Maine? Our governor has joined the clack of Republican (and some Democratic) governors who stand ready to block Syrian refugees from coming into their states. The fact that none of these governors has the legal power to execute their mandates is small consolation.

It is disheartening that Paul LePage and so many other political demagogues do not understand our history as a nation, or the human suffering of innocent refugees.

Orlando Delogu of Portland is emeritus professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and a longtime public policy consultant to federal, state, and local government agencies and officials. He can be reached at orlando.delogu@maine.edu.

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