Does a ban on Muslim immigrants make us safer?

Well, if there was any doubt about what a Trump presidency means for the US, and by extension for all of us, over the next four years there is little doubt now.  In the first week alone a flurry of executive orders have been signed on a whole bunch of issues that Mr. Trump promised he would act on.  Of interest to me is, of course, the ban on immigration from 7 Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  The Trump administration is selling this as a national security issue – a way to keep America and Americans safe.

But is it?

On the one hand, yes.  Terrorists from those seven nations will be unable to enter the US and carry out their heinous plots against innocent people.

The question, however, is: how many individuals who have carried out terrorist attacks in the US after 9/11 came to the US from those countries (or from any country for that matter) to execute their plans?  To my knowledge, the answer is precisely – zero.  Every attack has been perpetrated by either US citizens or landed immigrants who radicalised almost entirely in the US.  Hence a ban on citizens from the 8 listed countries would not have stopped a single incident.

As an aside, it is of interest that several countries are not on the list – i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  Given that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi, would it not have made sense to put that country on the list?

Some would argue that since a few people who went on to commit terrorism in the US were born elsewhere, a ban on Muslim immigration (Mr. Trump’s denials notwithstanding, his act is exactly that) is justified.  Perhaps, but immigration is a risk at the best of times.  How do we ensure that an immigrant does not become a murderer?  A rapist?  An embezzler?  A wife abuser?  A tax cheat?  As there are no guarantees maybe we should have no immigration at all.  I am kidding – immigration is the lifeblood of a society and the few negatives do not measure up to the many positives.

It is highly unlikely that this move by the new US government will have any real effect on terrorism.  Attacks will still be planned by those living in the US.  A small number of Muslims will continue to be radicalised to violence in the US.  Terrorism will remain a very rare tragedy.

We must also not discount the propaganda bonus this gives actual terrorist groups like Islamic State.  IS has long said that the West hates Islam and that Western governments do not want Muslims to live in their countries.  As a result, Muslims must perform hijra (migrate) to a Muslim land.  The Trump move underscores and supports what the terrorists are saying.

I am happy that Canada’s Trudeau government is not going down that path.  Canada is proudly a nation of immigrants, including Muslim ones, and will remain so, I hope.

Terrorism is real and requires real solutions.  The Trump administration immigration ban is not one of them.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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