A poll published in November 2014 by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies found that 13% of Syrian refugees have positive feelings towards the Islamic State terrorist group. The data should raise questions about the risks posed by the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the United States.
The poll surveyed 900 Syrian refugees equally split between Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The think-tank found that 4% expressed a positive opinion of the Islamic State (ISIS) and another 9% expressed a "somewhat positive" opinion of the terrorist group. Another 10% only view the group negatively "to some extent."
The responses to that question are similar to an inquiry to the Syrian refugees about whether they view ISIS to be a direct threat to their home country. About 80% responded affirmatively and 15% negatively, with 5% said they don't know or refused to answer.
Another question shows that these sentiments do not come from ignorance. The majority are aware of the Islamic State’s extremist ideology and barbarism. About 40% said they follow news related to the Islamic State very closely and 37% follow it somewhat closely. About 10% said they rarely follow ISIS-related news and 12% follow it not at all.
The survey didn't even ask about more popular groups like Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch named Jabhat al-Nusra and Hamas or extremist beliefs like jihad against the U.S. When asked about the greatest threat to the Arab world, 29% of Syrian refugees said Iran, followed by Israel (22%) and the U.S. (19%). The threat of Islamist militancy was rated the top threat by only 10%.
The Obama Administration has announced that it will allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the U.S. over 2015-2016. About 2,000 have arrived since 2012. The administration also plans to increase the number of refugees allowed into the country from 70,000 to 100,000 in 2016-2017.
Supporters of the plan argue that there is a credible vetting process to prevent terrorists from slipping through that includes background checks using governmental databases. However, a recent bipartisan House Homeland Security report concluded, "We have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists…Several dozen also managed to make it back to into America" (emphasis mine).
If we're having trouble stopping Americans from within the country from leaving, joining overseas jihadists and then coming back, how can we be confident that we'll catch radicalized Syrians who may not have operational links to terrorists? Are we even screening for extremist ideologies or only criminal activity?
The importing of the refugees could actually increase their risk of radicalization, based on widely-cited social science studies. A study of Al-Qaeda operatives found that 70% joined the jihad after moving to a new country and 80% were isolated from the society they lived in. The aforementioned congressional report warns that that the radicalization of Americans is already happening at an "unprecedented speed" and is "straining federal law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept suspects."
Only 41% of American voters support the resettling of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. It is opposed by 53% (33% of Democrats; 71% of Republicans and 48% of Independents). Almost 60% agree that the plan is a national security threat.
The heartbreaking situation in Syria should not blind us to the need to strictly vet for Islamist extremist beliefs. Ideological screening may not be politically correct, but it is morally correct. It helps keep America safe and helps stop a well-meaning, pro-Western refugee from losing their spot to an Islamist who would condemn and even act against the very country that rescued him.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.