As authorities work to uncover the details of yesterday's horrific shooting in San Bernardino — which comes right on the heels of the attacks in Paris last month — the challenge of assimilating Muslim immigrants and their children into Western societies must be addressed.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, attention turned to whether the flood of Syrian migrants may include radicals intent on perpetrating similar massacres. President Obama and parts of the libertarian right were quick to portray the migrants as harmless. The youth-oriented news site Fusion even published a snarky graphic purporting to show the number of refugees arrested for terrorism in the United States over time. The whole chart is empty, implying the total is zero. (The Boston marathon bombers presumably don't count because they were asylees?)
Whether the migrants are dangerous is an important question. Although details are sketchy, it does appear that two of the Paris attackers moved through Europe by traveling among Syrian refugees. And a recent survey found that 13 percent of Syrian refugees had a "positive" or "positive to some extent" view of ISIS, which is similar to support for ISIS in the broader Arab world.
But leave aside the refugees themselves. What has been missing from the discussion is the Muslim second generation. Even if background checks on refugees were flawless, importing a substantial Muslim population to the United States risks the growth of the same kind of unassimilated, radicalized segment of the Muslim community with which Europe is now struggling.
Consider how many of the Paris attackers were born and raised in Western Europe. Here is a summary of what the Financial Times could tell us after the attack:
- Abdelhamid Abaaoud: ringleader, born in Belgium
- Ibrahim Abdeslam: born in France
- Salah Abdeslam: brother of Ibrahim, "French national"
- Omar Ismael Mostefai: "French of Algerian origin"
- Sami Amimour: "French national from the Paris suburb of Drancy"
- Bilal Hadfi: "French, but living in Belgium"
Also, it is worth noting that the Charlie Hebdo shooters were both born and raised in France.
It is depressing that some people who grew up in the West could so violently reject our societies, but that is what has happened. For a not-inconsequential number of Muslims in Western Europe, assimilation has failed. Can we really be sure it won't fail here?
Although the United States currently has a much smaller (and generally more secular) Muslim population than Western Europe, a non-trivial share of Muslim Americans do seem to hold troubling views about terrorism. For example, a 2013 Pew poll found that 8 percent of U.S. Muslims consider suicide bombings and other violence against civilian targets often or sometimes justified. A 2015 poll found that nearly a quarter of U.S. Muslims believe it is justifiable to use violence against those who give offense to Islam.
Sometimes those attitudes have translated to actual violence. We do not yet have confirmation about what motivated Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik to go on a rampage in San Bernardino, but it is difficult to ignore the potential connection to radical Islam. Farook, who was reportedly born in the United States, would be an egregious case of failure to assimilate.
And this wouldn't be the first example. Nidal Hassan, who infamously killed 13 people in a mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, was born and raised in Virginia. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who this past summer killed five soldiers at military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., came to the United States as a young child. David Headley, a U.S. national formerly named Daood Sayed Gilani, helped plot the 2008 Mumbai attacks and other terrorist operations. One of the shooters earlier this year at the Curtis Culwell Center (where images of Muhammad were being displayed) was Texas-born Nadir Soofi. Soofi's two accomplices were American converts to Islam.
To be sure, a majority of Muslims and their children are well integrated into American society, and we should welcome and encourage their continued assimilation. However, the attacks in both France and the United States are a stark reminder that mass immigration sometimes sows the seeds of violent conflict.