No, not all jihadis are immigrants (quite the opposite in fact)

It is somewhat – no very – disconcerting that we are still dealing with the myth that is the connection between immigration and terrorism. In several Western countries there are movements that are in part or in whole anti-immigrant and one of the primary reasons for their opposition to newcomers is the belief that immigrants increase the risk of terrorism in the lands that become their new homes. One of the main proponents of this theory is, of course, US President Donald Trump who has said (among other things) that “People are pouring into our country, including terrorists.” This was actually said in relation to the need for a wall between Mexico and the US despite zero evidence that terrorists were in fact entering via the latter’s southern neighbour. The Donald also justified a ban on travel from a bevy of Middle Eastern nations out of what he saw as a direct link between those lands and terrorists.

Now I don’t normally dwell on anything Trump says either because it is nonsensical, a lie, or just a waste of my time, but it is important to highlight – yes, once again – that there is not a one-to-one relationship between immigration and terrorism. Yet another study, this one by the Rand Corporation in the US, has demonstrated that not only is the assumed link false, but that there is an increasing tendency, in the US at least, for homegrown terrorists (jihadis, not other types of terrorists) to be white or African American (i.e. not ‘brown-skinned Muslims from the Middle East or South Asia). In other words, the face of terrorism is changing, literally and figuratively.

I do not have equivalent data for Canada, but based on my time at CSIS the vast majority of our homegrown Islamist extremists were non-Middle Easterners or South Asians or, if they were from either of those communities, they were born in our country. In other words, our terrorists came from within, not from without. We cannot blame the ‘Other’ for the small jihadi problem we have and by closing the door to certain nations erroneously seen as the seedbed for terrorism we would in effect have next to no impact on the incidence of terrorism in Canada.

This is really important to grasp, especially as we head into a federal election in 2019. It is likely that some candidates will wave the fear of terrorism flag and tie that fear to immigration. Fear leads to panic and panic leads to bad decision making. We already have enough difficulty making good decisions as it is: let’s not compound this by heaping one more bad choice onto the pile.

Yes, we in Canada do have problems with the immigration system. We have to figure out better ways of preventing ‘irregular’ migration of those seeking to flee the horror story that is Trump’s America. We need to speed up and improve the citizenship process and work on integrating newcomers into our society. And we really need to have the courage to remove the tiny number of extremists who do not belong here because of what they represent (messrs. Harkat et al should have been deported decades ago).

At the same time we have to celebrate what immigrants bring to our land. We are a nation of immigrants by definition (First Nations aside, although they too came here from elsewhere, albeit tens of thousands of years ago) and our economic growth and prosperity depends crucially on more, not less, immigration.

Tying immigration to terrorism is not just wrong – it’s stupid. In those rare cases where real terrorists try to come here we have the tools to deal with them (although not the political will sometimes – see Harkat et al). The overwhelming majority of new Canadians (or new Americans or new Brits or new Australians or new…) are hardworking folk seeking a new life for themselves and their family. It would be good to keep reminding ourselves of this fact.

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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