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After Paris Attacks, We Must Not Abandon Our Values

Carol Rose and Kade Crockford: If we respond to the killing in Paris by turning our backs on refugees who need our help, expanding unconstitutional government power at home, or viewing our own neighbors with suspicion and hostility, we sacrifice our principles in exchange for a false sense of security. In this photo, a police officer stands guard by a security checkpoint at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, in Atlanta. (David Goldman/ AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Carol Rose and Kade Crockford: If we respond to the killing in Paris by turning our backs on refugees who need our help, expanding unconstitutional government power at home, or viewing our own neighbors with suspicion and hostility, we sacrifice our principles in exchange for a false sense of security. In this photo, a police officer stands guard by a security checkpoint at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, in Atlanta. (David Goldman/ AP)

Attacks that shook Paris and Beirut last week make us feel compassion for the survivors, empathy for those who lost loved ones and, yes, fear for our own safety. Political terrorism aims to strike fear in the hearts of millions — and it’s a disturbingly effective tactic.

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and dozens of other elected officials responded to the Paris attacks with fear, including a call to halt U.S. plans to provide a safe harbor for Syrian refugees.

Defending America requires us to put our values over our fears.

Such a response, while perhaps emotionally appealing to some, is counterproductive. If we have learned anything in the 14 years since 9/11, it’s that acting from fear provides neither the safety we seek nor distinguishes us from the people wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq today.

Defending America requires us to put our values over our fears.

If we respond to the killing in Paris by turning our backs on refugees who need our help, expanding unconstitutional government power at home, or viewing our own neighbors with suspicion and hostility, we sacrifice our principles in exchange for a false sense of security. Worse, cracking down on Muslims at home or abroad gives ISIS exactly what it wants, playing into the false and dangerous narrative that the West opposes Islam and that ISIS is its staunch defender.

Facts are useful in countering fear. The false picture of millions of would-be terrorists flooding our cities couldn’t be more inaccurate. The refugees fleeing Syria are escaping the same kind of terror that we saw unfold in Paris last week — albeit at a far more shocking scale. Moreover, the security procedures to enter the United States are incredibly rigorous: it takes two full years to complete the application and security process, including extensive in-person interviews and background checks.

Worse still, intentionally or not, the message that “No Syrians Need Apply” puts our Muslim, Arab and South Asian friends, neighbors and loved ones at risk for hate crimes. That might play well in the primary polls, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible.

Now, a top-level German official says it's possible that the Syrian passport discovered at the scene in Paris was fake, a decoy placed there to stoke anti-refugee sentiment in the West. Tragically, too many of our leaders fell right into that trap.

Other politically-motivated falsehoods being spouted in the wake of the Paris attacks consist of self-serving statements by intelligence community officials that privacy advocates and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden are somehow to blame, for supposedly alerting terrorists that intelligence agencies were monitoring their — and everyone else’s — communications. This is dangerous nonsense.

Terrorists have long known that the CIA and NSA use signals intelligence to monitor them; that’s why Osama bin Laden used couriers and didn’t touch a computer or phone for a decade, long before Snowden’s disclosures. Americans should not be fooled by such thinly veiled efforts by intelligence agencies to capitalize on the Paris attacks to seize new surveillance powers.

Pointing fingers at privacy advocates and fear mongering about refugees won’t keep us safe.

Again, facts offer an antidote to fear. As with virtually every other terrorist attack on western soil in recent years — including the Boston Marathon bombing — the Paris attackers were well known to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Two separate executive branch review panels, with full access to classified information, have determined that the NSA’s mass call-tracking program has not interrupted a single terrorist plot. France itself expanded its dragnet surveillance and communications-monitoring powers as recently as May 2015. Obviously, doing so did not protect the people of Paris from horrific violence.

Pointing fingers at privacy advocates and fear mongering about refugees won’t keep us safe. Abandoning our cherished liberties won’t protect us from harm. And making life uncomfortable for our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters by acting like they are somehow separate from us strengthens the hand of those behind the attacks in Paris and Beirut.

It’s time to stand strong, fight fear and refuse to be terrorized.

This piece was co-authored by Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project.

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