On Tuesday in Istanbul, according to Turkish authorities, a 28-year-old Syrian blew himself up outside the landmark Blue Mosque on ISIL’s behalf, killing nine German tourists. That sends a message to the world: the city’s Sultanahmet district is one of the planet’s biggest tourist attractions. It sends a message to Europe: border security being what it is, had the bomber decided to detonate himself in Paris or Rome, it’s reasonable to fear he could have. And it likely sends a deliberate message to Germany, which has been so welcoming to those fleeing ISIL’s terror: namely, “stop.”
This comes just days after the New Year’s debacle in Cologne, where mobs of young men allegedly sexually assaulted and robbed scores of women near the city’s main train station. The assailants “almost exclusively (have) a migration background,” a German interior ministry official alleged Monday; at least 22 current asylum-seekers are among the suspects.
The response was like a conspiracist blogger’s fantasy: the cops arrested precisely no one; the police chief, accused of withholding information about the attackers’ backgrounds, was sacked; the public broadcaster didn’t report anything about it for days. Since then, alarmingly similar reports have surfaced from other German cities and in Sweden.
In short, it has been an awful couple of weeks for the legions of law-abiding, hardworking Syrians hoping to live in reasonably peaceful and prosperous exile. It will be a delicate operation for German authorities, in particular, to rebuild the trust and the goodwill necessary to maintain that country’s remarkable generosity.
Here in Canada, we are lucky to have had the opportunity to pick and choose our refugees. But it’s worth remembering just how philosophically opposed some of us were to the idea of picking and choosing.
Some commentators suggested the Liberals’ comparatively ambitious goal of resettling 25,000 refugees by year’s end was in fact embarrassingly modest. For some, the entirely logical assumption that Syrian refugees as a class pose little security risk became an ironclad certainty that they pose absolutely none worth considering. And in that environment, honest questions were often not well received.
To ask why the Liberals were so intent upon such an unlikely deadline as to muse aloud about completing security screening on Canadian soil — an insane idea, as there would have been no way to deport anyone who failed — was to be accused of abandoning refugees to freeze to death in the camps. (Curiously, that concern seems to have vanished along with the deadline.) And it was, on occasion, to be explicitly or implicitly accused of racism — including by no less a figure than Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“What we can’t give in to … is allowing security to mask racism,” she told a conference in November. “That’s the danger and that somehow talking about security allows us to tap into that racist vein.”
It was a shameful, irresponsible response to perfectly reasonable (if overblown) security concerns. And while I don’t recall anyone worrying aloud that Syrian refugees might include some violent misogynist thugs, I think it’s safe to assume what the response would have been if someone had: more condemnation.
Yet a 2013 poll of “gender experts” by the Thomson Reuters Foundation pegged Syria as worse than most in the Arab world for its treatment of women, notably on issues of marriage, education, procreative rights and judicial corporal punishment.
“Whether covered or uncovered, women here are used to hearing foul language and sexual suggestions from frustrated teenagers,” BBC correspondent Lina Sinjab reported in 2010 from liberal Damascus. “They are also used to seeing men look hungrily at them as they walk by in the street. Sometimes the men brush against them, touching parts of their body. This is strictly forbidden of course, but these incidents are rarely reported.”
It should hardly come as a huge shock, then, that some of the tens of thousands of migrants might have brought those attitudes with them — just as it should not come as a shock if one day a few of their number take up arms against their new homes.
That’s no reason not to help, particularly for blessed Canada. We can manage our response carefully, equally to our benefit and to the refugees’. But nor is it any excuse for reckless naiveté or wilful blindness. Thankfully, after the Paris attacks at least, the civil service seemed to convince the Liberals that ruthless adherence to procedure was a better look than ruthless adherence to deadlines. Recent events should give those who cheered on a mass, carefree resettlement plan cause to consider just what they were risking with their moral exhibitionism.