Ignoring the inconvenient fact that his state has resettled exactly zero Syrian refugees, and that immigration is under federal, not state, purview, Governor Robert Bentley declared on Sunday that Alabama will refuse to accept anyone fleeing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
By Monday, the governors of Michigan, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas – all Republicans – had taken the same stand. In light of the Islamic State-led terrorist massacre that left more than 130 dead in Paris, the leaders say they are closing their states' doors to Syrian refugees so as to protect the safety of American citizens.
It is, in many ways, a strange argument – one that lacks the subtlety or logical coherence to even qualify as Orwellian. By far, the most serious threat of Islamic State-related terrorism in the West involves not the masses of refugees escaping violence in Syria, but rather the hordes of Western fighters who travelled to the Middle East to fight for IS and are now coming back home.
But beyond its impotence as a counterterrorism measure, the governors' argument also carries a quiet, malicious implication: it labels a sizable swath of terror victims as somehow complicit in the very terror they seek to escape. And in doing so, it helps accomplish the overarching goal of all extremism – the creation of a polar world, a world of Us and Them.
Fifteen years into the modern war on terror, the public rites that follow gruesome violence have become well-practiced. In the days after the Paris attacks, a parade of Muslim organizations publicly condemned the violence; Islamist terrorists gleefully claimed credit for the killing; political leaders in France and across the globe reiterated their resolve.
And amid all this, a sizable portion of the West's Muslim minority was once more issued a set of reminders. When Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz proposed accepting only Christian refugees from Syria because Christians do not commit acts of terrorism, it was a reminder. When an arsonist torched the only mosque in Peterborough, Ont., this weekend in a suspected hate crime, it was a reminder.
The reminder is this: You do not belong here. You will never belong here.
Such sentiment, even if only expressed by a shrill few, has consequences. Radicalization, the dark alchemy by which terror groups such as the Islamic State transform young men into nihilistic killers, feeds on two fuels. The first is an absolute directive. It is in this regard where the misinterpretation of religion proves most useful, allowing a terrorist recruiter to point to even the most heinous, violent act and say: God wills this.
The second fuel is estrangement, a sense of un-belonging. Among the long list of young, Western-born-and-bred men who have succumbed to the "Lions of Jihad" mythology over the years, there is a common trait of disillusionment – a feeling of remove from the places they eventually (once fully radicalized) swear an oath to destroy.
A sense of estrangement is a vital component of radicalization. It allows the recruiter to say: You do not belong here. You will never belong here.
Besides its logical and moral repugnance, Mr. Cruz's statement this weekend imagines a world exactly as divided as the Islamic State wishes it to be. In reality, the demographic the terror group most vehemently seeks to annihilate isn't some archetypal Western caricature – the decadent, wine-swigging heathen who seems to exist only in the fantasies of raging jihadis. The most existential threat to the Islamic State's aspirations is what the terror group calls the "Grey Zone." Within this zone reside all those who don't fit into the narrative of a polar world, eternally at war. Within this zone resides the author of this article, a Muslim man, Middle Eastern by birth, Canadian by citizenship and cultural inclination. Within this zone reside the members of the St. John's Anglican Church in Peterborough, who started a collection to help the city's torched mosque rebuild.
The "Grey Zone" comprises not some rare subset of cultural tightrope-walkers, the "Grey Zone" is the vast majority of us.
With knee-jerk cruelty, Gov. Bentley and his ideological kin have lumped the victims of terror with the perpetrators. The perpetrators could not have asked for a greater gift.