The Outstater: Do We All Live in Brussels Now?

March 23, 2016

It is easy to slip into the mordant these days, but we are reminded that symbolism, especially the sop in which some politicians indulge, has limits when real heads are being lopped.

It started with the “My Heart Breaks for New York” stickers that we stuck on our bumpers after Sept. 11, 2001. They assumed, naively, that: 1) the destruction of the heart of a great American city was a local concern; and 2) however sad it might be, that would be the end of it.

So on our evening walks, when we see that the mayor has changed the colors of the lighting on a downtown bridge to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Brussels, we are unimpressed. What would actually make a difference is for him to rescind his signature on a poorly thought letter drafted at the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The letter notifies Congress that my town is volunteering for the Obama administration’s Syrian refugee resettlement program and recognizes “the importance of continuing to welcome refugees to our country and to our cities.” “We cannot afford to have an ‘us and them’ mentality on this issue,” our mayor is fond of saying.

Well yes, as long as “them” are not setting off bombs amongst “us.” The mayor, a kind gentleman, would be shocked to learn that his heartfelt appeal represented an invitation to horror, statistically anyway.

Some of us recall that one alleged terrorist, namely 23-year-old Ali Saleh, was among those enjoying my town’s hospitality until recently, spending seven months here apparently undaunted by any threat to change the color of our bridge lighting.

As we have written before, if the mayors’ sentiments prevail nationally there is no reason that the number of similarly vetted Mideast refugees should not be increased from the 10,000 that Barack Obama has proposed to 65,000, the number suggested by Hillary Clinton. In fact, Tom Huston, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, offers a gimlet-eyed assessment of the general risk acceptable to our mayor and his friends at the National League of Cities.

“Our experience with the vetted refugees from Chechnya who invested in a couple of pressure cookers to celebrate the Boston Marathon may argue against gambling too much on the skill of those who do our vetting,” Huston warns. Using figures supplied by the London-based economist Irwin Stelzer, Huston argues that even if you grant government screeners a certainty rate of 99 percent — extraordinary for government work — it would mean that my mayor’s gesture of noblesse oblige would permit 650 new Syrian terrorists to enter the country.

And if in the unlikely event (however perfectly justified) that those terrorists were distributed evenly among those signatory municipalities supporting Syrian refugees, it would mean that about 10 prospective bombers, beheaders and mass executioners of infidels would take up residency as my neighbors. (Please know that Paris and Brussels were brought to their knees by somewhere between eight and 20, leaving our group shorthanded but still worrisome.)

There is more statistical bad news. Quoting a Pew Research report, Huston says that Muslim immigration to the U.S. already is about 270,000 annually. The report suggests that 5 percent or 13,500 of each year’s group may have terrorist sympathies, not counting second- and third-generation immigrants later attracted to the cause, e.g., the Minnesota Somali-American fellows arrested last summer by the FBI on their way to Syria.

Our mayor, bless his heart, is willing to take this humanitarian gamble. But is it a good one — statistically? It depends, Huston says, on whether it is your life or someone else’s at stake.

All of that aside, our bridge is breathtaking in the evening light. — Craig Ladwig


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