This tweet has been doing the rounds, and it’s actually pretty funny:
Best twitter exchange I’ve seen in ages. pic.twitter.com/Vwnmix5iuH
— Response Skipper (@Responseskipper) January 29, 2017
I have heard a few people expressing this same sentiment, i.e. that Trump’s restrictions on immigration will lead to an increase in terrorist numbers. Leaving aside the fact that this rather too casually assumes Muslims are prone to turn to terrorism over relatively mundane things and if this is the case then maybe restricting their movements isn’t such a bad idea, I think the point is anyway moot.
We used to hear this a lot during the American response to 9/11, first with the attack on Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and then the supposedly related Iraq War. But I grew skeptical of that argument when it was applied to Israeli policies, namely their assassination of successive Hamas leaders in 2004 and the building of the security barrier. Many commentators warned that neither would lead to peace and both would result in more Palestinians turning to terrorism.
Only I thought this missed the point spectacularly. At the time these policies were being carried out, Israel was already subject to sustained terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians. At that point the precise number of terrorists didn’t matter but limiting their effectiveness did, and it was to limit their effectiveness that Israel enacted these particular policies. If the number of suicide attacks fell as a consequence (and they did) then the possibility that a few hundred more terrorists joined the ranks of those who already existed was of secondary importance. Many people condemn Israel policies as making things worse, but in the minds of a lot of Israelis things really couldn’t get any worse in terms of relations with the Palestinians and their supporters so they really oughtn’t to be too concerned about this when enacting policies to keep them safe. Long term Israel might have the luxury of worrying about how many terrorists it is facing, but at the time (and now) I don’t think it matters much to them whether there are 10,000 or 50,000: limiting their effectiveness becomes the priority.
I’m sure Jim Gamble knows this, but judging by his Twitter feed he appears to be more interested in scoring political points. Given the scale of what the British government faced in Northern Ireland it was probably correct to consider the effect on terrorist numbers should they crack down too hard on the Republicans: the conflict was more or less contained, except for the occasional bombing on the mainland, and there was a balance to be had between limiting the effectiveness of the IRA and seriously pissing off the ordinary nationalists. But the situation faced by Israel was quite different, and hence the balance point shifted.
Whether his policy is the right way to go about it or not, Trump is trying to keep terrorists out of the United States. I cannot read Trump’s mind but I might guess that he has looked at America’s efforts in the War on Terror over the past decade and a half and reached the conclusion that trying to eradicate Islamic terrorism is an impossible task and so limiting the ability of terrorists to inflict harm within the US ought to be a priority. Some may argue that it is better there are only 100 Islamic terrorists hell-bent on attacking the USA instead of 2,000 and they’d be right; but if there are currently 100,000 such people and policies to limit their ability to enter the USA bumps these numbers up to 120,000 it is reasonable to ask what the difference is. A cursory glance around the world will tell you there is no shortage of Islamic terrorists and their numbers will be in the tens of thousands even if Trump throws himself off his own tower and Louis Farrakhan gets installed as the Grand Mufti of the newly formed Islamic Republic of North America. At this point their precise numbers mean no more than whether Nato was facing 50,000 or 80,000 Soviet tanks at the Fulda Gap: they were vastly outnumbered, and so they needed to come up with a way with countering them.
There are people who think Muslims will interpret Trump’s Executive Order as a “war on Islam” and it will be “us against them”. Only we’ve heard this line repeated after 9/11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, and in the aftermath of every terrorist attack since, and when something is repeated often enough it sometimes comes to be. There are a growing number of people in the West who already believe that it is “us against them” and we are already at war with Islam, only the leadership are reluctant to say so. These beliefs are harboured by a good number of those who voted for Trump and support his immigration policies, indeed this is precisely why a lot of them voted for him. If things keep heading in this direction the number of people who believe Islamic terrorism will always exist as long as Islam exists, and the priority for the West should be to put as much physical distance between Muslim populations and everyone else, will increase and will eventually become a majority.
Both Muslims and Western politicians should be a lot more concerned about that group growing than terrorist numbers.