Stalin’s apocryphal bon mot that a single death is a tragedy while a million is just a statistic, was thrown into sharp relief this week when a photo sped around the world showing the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach.
On the back of public outrage, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to accept some 15,000 Syrian refugees into the UK. A petition demanding the UK allow more refugees into the country garnered upwards of 418,000 signatures. Another, more tongue-in-cheek petition to swap controversial columnist and reality star Katie Hopkins for 50,000 Syrian refugees (sending her to Syria) gained nearly 40,000 signatures on change.org.
Germany, for its part, agreed to accept an unlimited number of refugees. An estimated 800,000 are expected to arrive in Germany this year.
Humanitarians, driven by altruism and moved by the plight of the four-million refugees from the Syrian Civil War turned out in droves to greet refugees in Munich, handing out food and toys for children.
All the while, the Islamic State threatened to import thousands of fighters into Europe disguised as refugees. Spanish authorities identified at least 800 Jihadists who returned from Syria and are now in Europe.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama identified lack of integration among European Muslims as “possibly the greatest danger Europe faces.”
Islamist groups carried out street patrols advocating sharia law in Germany and the UK, while France saw its worst terrorist attack in 30 years in January, prompting national introspection about integration and free speech.
It is a near certainty that some of those attempting to cross into Europe now are Islamists. It is highly probable that, alienated and radicalized, some will become Islamists in the future.
The only question is, how many and can they be separated from the broader population of refugees?
Several prominent humanist thinkers and writers including Asra Nomani, Faisal Saeed al Mutar and Ali A. Rizvi attacked the Arab world for failing to act to protect Syrian refugees, instead seeking to place all the blame and burden on Western countries. The six Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, have not allowed a single Syrian refugee across their frontiers. Saudi Arabia has even forbidden its citizens from adopting Syrian orphans.
(This policy does not include the Syrian refugees regularly sold to wealthy gulf patrons as sex slaves.)
Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth called out Saudi Arabia and the Gulf’s failure to accept Syrian refugees.
None of this matters, of course, to a family desperately trying to escape the terrors of war to build a better life in a new country. To those people all the calculations of politicians about Europe’s long-term future and the security problems posed by Islamist terror are so much hot air, one excuse or another keeping them from a warm bed and a hot meal.
But in Europe’s politicians cannot afford to be so single-minded. In Germany, refugees attempted to lynch a man accused of tearing a Quran, then rioted, turning on the police who saved the man’s life. Preventing future incidents of this kind is vital if successful integration is to ever take place.
Concern for refugees cannot be allowed to translate into ignoring the security and cultural risks of admitting thousands of unknown people. Neither can fear for ourselves and our societies be allowed to overrule basic compassion.
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.