In a letter that I signed, together with about 100 other former national security officials, we argued that the Trump Refugee Ban Executive Order, in addition to being unnecessary and wrong, “will harm our national security” because “it has already sent exactly the wrong message to the Muslim community here at home and all over the world: that the U.S. government is at war with them based on their religion.” In my posts on Facebook about the Order, I made a similar point—that such a ban makes us less safe, not safer.
As you might expect, we have received pushback for this point. Isn’t it better to take no risks? Given the terrorist attacks in Europe, isn’t there at least a small risk that one person from this country intends us harm? If, so, why take even this small risk?
Even apart from the obvious point that we accept far greater risks in our everyday lives, this question also fails to consider the possibility that imposing such a ban itself increases the risk of radicalization.
As explained in an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times, there is actually some research that supports our fear that anti-Muslim actions and rhetoric will contribute to the radicalization process, and thereby increase the risk of developing home grown terrorists. The academics of conducted this study, Sarah Lyons-Padilla of Stanford and Michael Gelfand of the University of Maryland explain their study:
We conducted a survey with nearly 200 American Muslims, half of whom were immigrants, half of whom were born in the United States. We asked them about their experiences as religious and cultural minorities, including their feelings of being discriminated against on the basis of their religion. We also asked how they managed their dual identities as Americans and Muslims, and how they felt toward fundamentalist Islamic groups and extremist causes.
Our findings were clear: The more our participants reported feeling culturally homeless — that is, fully belonging neither to American culture nor to that of another nation — and discriminated against on the basis of their religion, the more they said they experienced a lack of meaning in their lives. In turn, this loss of meaning was associated with greater support for fundamentalist groups and extremist causes.
This finding was consistent with research by the social psychologist Arie Kruglanski that showed that the psychological need for significance, not religion or ideology, is what propels people toward extremism. Extremist groups offer a sense of purpose, certainty and belonging to those who work on their behalf.
These groups go after Muslims who feel culturally homeless, leaning heavily on the claim that the West is anti-Islam. In this context, Mr. Trump’s original ban, which sent a strong message that Muslims were not welcome in this country and could not be “real” Americans, amounted to free propaganda for extremists. As one poster argued on a pro-Islamic State web channel, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the declared leader of the Islamic State, should consider Mr. Trump’s executive order a “blessed ban.”
While it appears the original Executive Order will be pulled back, it will replaced with an Executive Order that will still target immigrants from predominately Muslim countries. It too will send a message that will hurt our efforts to prevent radicalization.