Over 100 people showed up on Tuesday, December 8 at the Bernhard Center to talk about about the recent terrorist shootings in Paris and the American response.
Dr. Laura Hastings and Dr. John Clark from the Department of Political Science participated including as well as Susan Reed, managing attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo.
“It was a great media opportunity,” said Hastings regarding the terrorists’ motive in the attack. “The terrorists meant to create a reaction, and they did.”
Paris is a global center like New York, so the drama of an important place got the world’s attention the terrorists wanted. Baghdad and Beirut were attacked on the same day with little mention or discussion in the media, she said.
Hastings had other reasons to explain why she thought Paris was the target.
France is uncomfortable with its own diversity, even though it is the nexus of Arab and French culture.
“There is no Arab-French identity like the Arab-American identity in the United States,” she said.
Neither does France have an official record of its Arab population because ethnic statistics are forbidden by law, although some estimates number about 5 million. Most Arabs who live in France settled during the economic boom years of the 1960s and early 1970s. Many of these immigrants brought their families after 1973 and settled mainly in the industrial regions in France, especially the Paris region.
French embracement of the Arab community is sorely lacking beginning in its colonial era of 130 years ago. Algeria, for example, was incorporated into French territory, with the condition that natives renounce their citizen status as Algerians.
“Colonial relations still exist today,” said Hastings. “Second and third generation Muslims live in poor areas in the outskirts of Paris that resemble a kind of colonial shanty town where they remain unemployed and open to radicalization.”
Finally, Islam has not been recognized as a French religion in this primarily Catholic country, even though Judaism is, she said. In 1905 “secularism” or the separation of Church and state, was adopted by the parliament. Today, that policy forbids “ostentatious signs of religion” and violators can be arrested for wearing hijab (a head covering worn by Muslim women) or the Jewish kippah or skullcap.
“With this background of history, it is difficult for French Muslims to feel French,” said Hastings. “Meanwhile, the French government (and the US government as well) should address these underlying social issues with its Muslim citizens instead of reacting to the terrorism by bombing ISIS targets.
The American response
To illustrate the American response to the Paris attacks, John Clark drew the distinction between a policy response and a political response.
A policy response occurs when some action takes place in government, like the passing of a law. For example, after the church shooting in Charleston on June 17, 2015, the South Carolina state legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capitol building.
In contrast, a political response is all about who gets what, when, why and how. It is typically used pejoratively, but in truth, it’s not a bad thing. Clark cited the examples of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, and the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011, when U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head.
“After Columbine, local school districts were encouraged to think about their response strategies in case of another shooting, but no policy was made,” said Clark.
“After Tucson, we saw Democrats and Republicans engage in ‘date night’ at the State of the Union address where they sat together and showed they could reach across the aisle. Immediately after the speech, however, such cooperation was over.”
The response from government so far has been a political response about how to gain advantage from the Paris attacks even though there have been a number of opportunities to make a policy response, he said.
“But they haven’t done it—and probably won’t—even after the San Bernadino attacks.”
What politicians did latch on to was a political response to refugees, said Clark. The House passed a bill to halt the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. until they undergo a more stringent vetting process. Governors in 31 states refused to admit refugees even though that issue is not under state jurisdiction. Some Republican presidential candidates tried to advance their candidacy by calling for more refugee policy reform.
“It was not a well-thought-out response,” said Clark who added that American politicians often advance certain issues to make it look as though they are solving problems—especially if American citizens are ignorant of the issue as in the case of refugee policy.
Meanwhile, faith-based groups all across the religious spectrum spoke out on behalf of refugees because their faith leads them to policy that is different from political rhetoric.
“Catholics, evangelicals and Jews are all agreeing on refugee resettlement,” said Clark.
Susan Reed spoke on the issue of refugee resettlement from a legal perspective.
The definition of a refugee is a matter of international law, which resulted from the horror of not protecting Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s genocide during World War II, she said. In the United States, refugee status was not codified until 1980.
In order to be identified as refugees or asylees, they must prove they are unable to return to their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on one of five protected categories including race, religion, national origin, political opinion and membership in a particular social group. The last basis is constantly evolving, however. For example, in 1994, a case was decided where gays and lesbians would be considered in some countries part of a particular social group with a well-founded fear of persecutio. Then, because of the civil war in Syria, many Syrians also meet the legal definition of refugees for a variety of the possible reasons.
"Asylum seekers get into this country by showing up at our front door—a port of entry,” said Reed. “Although this is not illegal, they will be detained. They then must prove that they meet the legal definition of a refugee in a complex legal process.”
Those who are actually admitted to the U.S. as refugees go through a more complicated process abroad, but they have a clear legal immigration status and a path to U.S. citizenship. First, they must be identified outside the United States and brought in from a refugee camp or another location abroad by the U.S. working in partnership with another international partner such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Potential refugees then go through a 13-step process, the highest level of security of any group seeking entry into the U.S. that involves referral, clearance, in-person interviews with the refugees and others connected to them, medical screening and matching families with agencies. For this last part, various non-profit agencies engage in a bidding process to handle the refugees’ cases. This involves cultural orientation, security clearances and placement for housing, education, medical care and the like.
Reed gave a more in-depth explanation of refugee policy and Governor Snyder’s role in tripping off other governors’ rush to restrict Syrian and Iraqi resettlement. To get the details on this issue, view her blog.
The afternoon event was sponsored by the Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education as part of its Occasional Lecture Series on pressing current events.
Past talks included Ukraine and Russia: A Panel Discussion on the Growing Conflict (March 13, 2014) Ebola: A Panel Discussion on the Current Outbreak in West Africa (Oct 2, 2014).