National Security & Defense

The Troubling Math of Muslim Migration

Preventing a Paris-style attack is, in part, a numbers game. Americans don’t seem to be paying attention.

A major Islamist terror attack in France was only a matter of time. For several decades, the country has invited immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa en masse – first to bolster the labor force in the rebuilding years that followed World War II, then out of multicultural impulses that prevailed over prudential considerations. That radical Islam was transplanted to France, grew in strength and extent, and bore this week’s hideous fruit was not difficult to predict. The same is not unlikely in Sweden, Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere.

Demographics may not be the whole of destiny, but they are certainly a good part, and across the Atlantic, the United States seems increasingly to be turning toward Western Europe’s most undesirable demographic trends.

In 1992, 41 percent of new permanent residents in the United States — green-card holders — hailed from the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and North Africa, or sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Pew Research Center. A decade later, the percentage was 53 percent. Over that same period, predictably, the number of Muslim immigrants coming to the United States annually has doubled, from 50,000 to approximately 100,000 each year. In 1992, only 5 percent of Muslim immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa; 20 years later, it was 16 percent. Of the 2.75 million Muslims in the United States in 2011, 1.7 million were legal permanent residents.

There is no official estimate of Muslims in the U.S.; religious affiliation is not tracked by the Census Bureau. However, Pew’s estimate of 2.75 million seems to be on the lower end. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says there are approximately 7 million Muslims in the country.

Whatever the exact level, it can hardly be considered surprising that as the Muslim population in the country has expanded, so has the incidence of radicalism.

The Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, born in the Soviet Union and Kyrgyzstan, respectively, came to the United States as refugees in 2002. They were radicalized inside the country, Tamerlan reportedly at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, Mass. That mosque has reported links to several other convicted, or suspected, terrorists. Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, born in Eritrea and raised in Yemen, was reportedly an attendee before being sentenced, in 2004, to 23 years in prison for (among other things) his role in a Libyan plot to assassinate then–Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Also reported to worship there was Aafia Siddiqui, “Lady al-Qaeda,” born in Pakistan, later a graduate of MIT and Brandeis University, sentenced to 86 years in prison in 2010 for attempting to kill a U.S. Army captain in Afghanistan. But that was just what they prosecuted: She had plans to conduct a chemical attack in New York City. (The Islamic Society of Boston denies these and several other troubling associations.)

And one can look elsewhere. In 2003, the “Lackawanna Six,” six naturalized citizens from Yemen, were convicted of providing material support to al-Qaeda. Lackawanna, N.Y., (as well as nearby Buffalo) is home to a large Yemeni population. In May, authorities arrested Mufid Elfgeeh, a Yemeni-born man who was allegedly attempting to recruit for the Islamic State and use revenues from his grocery store to fund the organization. He was living in Rochester, N.Y., just an hour east.

But the potential threats of a permissive immigration policy are multigenerational. France has spent decades ushering in its recent fate.

Consider: Said and Chérif Kouachi — the brothers responsible, along with a third accomplice, for the Charlie Hebdo murders — were native Frenchmen whose parents hailed from Algeria. So was Farid Benyettou, the man who drew Chérif Kouachi to radical Islam. So was Mohammed Merah, who shot seven people dead, including three children at Jewish day school, in Toulouse and Montauban in March 2012.

Radicalism seems to ferment as much, if not more so, among first-generation Westerners as among their immigrant parents. Which means that massive Muslim immigration may have few visible repercussions today — but a great many tomorrow.

That reality is becoming manifest in the United States. 

#page#Dearborn, Mich., is home to just under 100,000 people, about 40 percent of whom are Muslim. In 2013, a leaked government document revealed that more people from Dearborn were on the federal terrorist watch list than from any other city except New York. In March 2014, Dearborn resident Mohammed Hassan Hamdan was arrested at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on his way to join Hezbollah in Syria.

In October of last year, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, of Bolingbrook, Ill., was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on his way to enlist in the Islamic State. He had left his family a three-page letter inviting them to join him.

And there are the dozens of individuals from the Twin Cities’ Somali diaspora, many of whom worshiped at the same mosque, who have tried — successfully and otherwise — to do the same. (For more information on this phenomenon, go here.)

Perhaps the most infamous native-born terrorist: Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from the West Bank.

Suggesting a correlation between the number of Muslims in the country and the incidence of radicalism is, of course, considered insensitive, if not downright “Islamophobic.”

But the only point here is a mathematical one: Whatever the percentage of Muslims who support or would ever consider supporting jihadism, the raw number obviously increases along with the total number of Muslims. One percent of 10 million is much larger than 1 percent of 1 million. The questions is, at what point does the radical population achieve a kind of critical mass?

This need not be inevitable. America’s immigration policy can be tailored to address this challenge. Unfortunately, the available measures will be only minimally effective without a significant change of political circumstances.

The most obvious prophylactic would be to simply reduce the numbers of immigrants permitted from Muslim-majority countries. Reducing the numbers of immigrants from those countries allowed into the U.S. would reduce opportunities for many good, hard-working folk, yes, but it would almost certainly reduce the number of radical Islamists entering the country as well, making it much more difficult for those so inclined to wreak havoc within our borders, or to entrap the young and impressionable. That would help to reduce the likelihood both of terrorist activity currently and a generation hence. However, while Congress has the authority to legislate such a change, it would meet with fierce opposition from some quarters. A more plausible solution would be to reduce immigration from these countries as part of an across-the-board immigration reduction — although that, too, is improbable anytime soon. Those may of course both be too dramatic: One milder alternative would be to shift immigration priorities toward fellow English-speaking nations and liberal democracies.

Other, finer tools are available. Enhanced scrutiny can be applied to visa applicants from countries recognized as state sponsors of terrorism, or where terrorists are known to operate. The president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ union, has called America’s immigration system the world’s “visa clearinghouse,” with applications processed with an emphasis on speed rather than security and accuracy. The current administration’s policies toward illegal immigrants are likely only to further inundate an already overwhelmed system.

We could also adjust America’s refugee policy, which has played a significant part in the arrival of certain communities — such as Minnesota’s Somalis — and allows for religious distinctions that could be used to distinguish between, say, Syrian Sunnis and Syrian Christians applying for refugee status. However, given political considerations and ham-handed bureaucratic procedures, that change is also unlikely.

But the potential problems associated with massive Muslim immigration, and potential solutions, must be addressed now, when they can still be implemented thoughtfully — not in the wake of an instance of large-scale domestic terrorism.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was not inevitable, but years of permissive immigration policy made it more and more likely. If we want to reduce the probability of a similar attack inside America’s borders, we should recognize France’s mistake, and reform immigration policies that simply do not add up.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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