Politics & Policy

Confronting the Terror Threat

NYPD officers stand near the truck used in a terror attack in lower Manhattan, November 1, 2017. (Reuters photo: Brendan McDermid)

Yesterday’s terror attack in Manhattan serves as a reminder that if a man is truly determined to kill innocent people, there is no truly effective countermeasure. In the aftermath of mass murders, it’s common to focus on the means of the attacks. If it’s a gun, then we immediately debate gun control. If it’s an airplane, we focus on improved security at airports. But what if the attacker uses something so common — and so deadly — as a truck? There is no such thing as “truck control,” and there’s simply no way to prevent a homicidal monster from getting behind the wheel.

Moreover, the success of this attack raises a disturbing possibility. Will our terrorist enemies exploit our vulnerability in the United States to the same extent that they have in Europe — where deadly vehicular attacks are depressingly common? After all, a series of smaller-scale mass murders can potentially foster more national fear than the occasional spectacular attack.

The European example shows us that the tightest gun control, dramatic restrictions on civil liberties, and surveillance states far more intrusive than that in the United States can’t stop terrorists determined to kill the innocent. It’s simply misguided to focus the defense against terror on the means of committing murder. We must focus instead on limiting the population of potential terrorists, defeating their sources of inspiration, and fostering a culture that fully assimilates immigrants into the American body politic.

First, as the European experience demonstrates, it is a sad fact that importing large numbers of immigrants from jihadist-dominated regions allows for the creation of distinct subcultures where the jihadist message can spread and flourish. America has been largely spared the violence we see overseas, in large part because we have not flung open our borders in the same way as our European allies. There are simply smaller numbers of potential terrorists in the United States.

This is yet another argument for an immigration system that imposes extra scrutiny on immigrants from jihadist-dominated regions and places the burden on immigrants to demonstrate the value they bring to the United States. The suspect in the Manhattan attack, Sayfullo Saipov, came to the United States from Uzbekistan through a so-called diversity visa, which brings immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration into the U.S.

We have opposed this ill-considered program that, coupled with chain migration, creates immigrant flows from random countries — such as Uzbekistan — with no regard to our economic and national interests. We instead support a merit-based approach like that set out in the Cotton-Perdue RAISE Act. Of course there is no foolproof method for screening immigrants, and perhaps Saipov could have gained admission even under a merit-based immigration regime, but it is certainly true that merit-based immigration places significant practical hurdles that would make it more difficult for the United States to experience the challenges we now see in Europe.

Second, the United States should continue the fight against ISIS relentlessly and remorselessly. We applaud the Trump administration’s military successes. The fall of Raqqa was a signal achievement, and ISIS’s “caliphate” is largely in ruins. There is still much work to be done, however. Quite obviously, ISIS can still inspire attacks, and its jihadist fighters are spread around the globe.

In our respect for civil liberties, including religious liberty, our nation is an outlier in the best sense.

ISIS, however, is more dangerous when it is ascendant than when it’s in retreat. Its victories inspired recruits around the globe, and while its defeats haven’t deterred all its supporters, the group is without doubt shrinking and less able to effectively recruit. An ISIS that is being hunted to extinction is less dangerous than an ISIS that inspires radical Muslim youth to believe that they are ushering in a new Muslim empire.

Finally, it’s vital that the United States retain the cultural self-confidence that has allowed it to so effectively assimilate immigrants from all corners of the globe. America has a large and growing Muslim population, and many of them are immigrants or the children of immigrants. It’s imperative that they become full participants in American culture, and indeed the vast majority are exactly the kind of citizens America needs. It’s a simple fact that America has been spared from a number of deadly terror attacks because patriotic American Muslims have seen something and said something. They have understood that America is worth defending and that patriotism is compatible with faithful adherence to Islam.

In our respect for civil liberties, including religious liberty, our nation is an outlier in the best sense. We need not shed those liberties to defend our nation. But to maintain a nation as open and free as ours, it’s vital that we thoughtfully control which immigrants join our community and that we never waver in our defense against outside enemies. Attacks like yesterday’s have been mercifully infrequent in the United States. We cannot take it for granted that they will remain so rare.


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