On the evening of Friday, November 13th, my Acapella group, the GW Vibes, had the honor of performing with another esteemed Acapella ensemble, the Johns Hopkins Vocal Chords, in their fall concert at their home institution. After a pleasant ride on a mark train from Union Station to Baltimore/Penn Station, my group sat down at a local grill for a quick bite to eat. As we wait, ready to pay our bill, a fellow tenor looks up at the screen of one of the televisions surrounding the bar. After a breaking news headline flew by, the screen read “Crisis in Paris: Terror attack kills at least 40.” I check my phone to find CNN updates flooding my notification stream, detailing the situation in France. The ten of us sat there in complete shock. I sat there, as an International Affairs major concentrating in Security Policy, unable to comprehend the information placed before me.
After the majority of the information was gathered, it was nearly 24 hours later, with approximately 129 dead and hundreds more wounded from three different attacks in three different locations. While not immediately, ISIS eventually claimed responsibility for the attack, lead by 7 terrorists, two of whose names have been released. The French government has already carried out multiple airstrikes against the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria in retaliation for this heinous act of terror.
Our thoughts and prayers are with French people as well as the families, loved ones, and friends of all those affected by this tragedy. Our hearts also go out to the victims and families affected by the bombing in Beirut that killed 43 people and left 239 wounded just a day before the attacks in Paris. With these two disasters in mind, a growing sentiment among some European citizens, specifically French citizens, includes a change in attitude towards Islam in an already tense environment. A New York Times article points out that, “secular France always had a complicated relationship with its Muslim community, but now it was tipping toward outright distrust, even hostility.”
In a different light, these attacks fall at an interesting time for the United States in a manner of domestic policy. A new crisis has taken the forefront of debate in the Washington and national political spectrum, that crisis of the mass amounts of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria. These refugees travel through Turkey and southern Europe to reach the doorsteps of Western European countries, the most desired destination revealed to be Germany. President Obama has taken the responsibility of answering the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East along side our European allies, announcing that the United States will accept and help relocate Syrian refugees.
Governors of several states, including Ohio, Texas, and Louisiana, have made clear that they will actively act against the President’s plans for relocating Syrian refugees across the country. It has become an attack point for Republican presidential candidates, using the aforementioned tragedies in Paris as a prime reason to turn away Syrian refugees. Some have even proposed a “religious test” to enter the country, ensuring only Christians would gain entrance. Not only is such an idea unreasonable, it is un-American in nature. We are a land of religious tolerance and will continue to be so.
This is not to say that the processing of these refugees will be easy by any means. Each refugee will need to be documented, cared for, and relocated, utilizing significant resources. Our intelligence agencies will need clear avenues to obtain information on any individual that could pose a threat. While national security should remain a priority and a few individuals may try to take advantage of the Syrian refugee influx in America, it is important to understand the majority of people coming to the United States have few other options. Syria is being torn apart in countless ways by many geopolitical and state actors, and the environment only gets more and more dangerous each day.
We are a welcoming country. We must have reasonable expectations for the future, however we must never forget the compassion and selflessness that Americans are capable of. Taking care of those in need of help, welcoming strangers, accepting a difficult challenge and uncertain fate: these are all parts of being a global leader, and the United States, along with our European allies, must accept the challenge.