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US Would Be Wrong to Ban Muslim Refugees

'In standing by our values and our fellow human beings, we deny terrorists what they want.' (Photo: AP)

The brutal and violent nature of the terrorist group Daesh (ISIS) was brought into sharp relief by last week’s attacks in Paris, as well as those carried out in Beirut and Baghdad. We want to stop these terrorists in their tracks, and certainly well before they reach our shores. And that means thinking carefully about what they are trying to accomplish so that we fight them on our own terms, rather than theirs.

Terrorist groups seek to create a wedge between Muslims and those of other faiths. Daesh has called for the destruction of what it calls the "gray zone," where people of all religions co-exist. The places where we come together to share a laugh or to enjoy good food or music are in their crosshairs. Daesh (and Al Qaeda before it) want to provoke a backlash against Muslims because it nourishes their message and their cause.

By accepting refugees from Syria, the United States and Europe are doing the right thing from a humanitarian perspective and from a security perspective. They are showing, through their actions, that Muslims are welcome in the West. But limiting Syrian refugees to those of the Christian faith sends the opposite message. That's exactly what the terrorists want.


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Of course, we should — and do — carefully vet Syrian refugees for security risks, as we do with others who come to our shores. But discriminating against refugees because of their faith is deeply offensive to our constitutional values. Freedom of religion is the bedrock principle on which our democracy was built. We shouldn't abandon it because of a bunch of thugs.

We also should resist making our enemies out to be greater than they are. By conflating Daesh with Islam, even with the “radical” prefix, we give them the mantle of representing Islam. It belongs to the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world who have nothing to do with terrorism. We unnecessarily strain our alliances and we put American Muslims at risk of hate crimes.

In standing by our values and our fellow human beings, we deny terrorists what they want. That’s a win in my book.

Faiza Patel

Faiza Patel serves as Co-Director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. She is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries. Follow her on Twitter: @FaizaPatelBCJ

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