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The GOP Is Completely Freaking Out About Syrian Refugees After the Paris Attacks

It’s still unclear whether any of the attackers posed as Syrian refugees, but Republican presidential candidates and governors are already sounding the alarm.

by Olivia Becker
Nov 16 2015, 7:30pm

Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA

It's been three days since a series of coordinated attacks by the Islamic State left nearly 130 people dead in Paris, and it remains unclear whether any of men responsible were from Syria or posed as Syrian refugees in order to enter Europe. But the uncertainty surrounding the situation hasn't stopped Republican politicians from sounding the alarm about refugees from Muslim countries coming to the United States.

A total of 11 Republican governors — from Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Michigan, Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, Massachusetts, and Alabama — have either signed executive orders explicitly refusing to accept Syrian refugees, or expressed reluctance about doing so in the future.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz said on Sunday that the US should treat refugees differently depending on their religion, saying that there was "no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror," but that it would be "lunacy" to allow more Muslims into the country.

Cruz's comments came the same day that Jeb Bush said the US should carefully screen out all other refugees who were not Christian. "We should focus our efforts as it relates to the Christians that are being slaughtered," Bush told CNN's Jake Tapper.

Related: The Paris Attacks Could Make Things Even Worse for Syrian Refugees

Ben Carson, also appearing on the Sunday talk show circuit, argued that allowing Syrian refugees to come to the US "under these circumstances is a suspension of intellect."

And on Monday, Donald Trump said on CNBC that Syrian refugees were like a "Trojan horse" for Islamic terrorists to sneak into the country. "We cannot let them into this country, period," Trump said, referring to Syrians. "Our country has tremendous problems. We can't have another problem."

Trump also called for surveillance in American mosques in order to find and shut down the ones that preach hate, a suggestion that was immediately condemned by civil liberties

'We cannot let them into this country, period.'


"We're witnessing increasingly hate-filled rhetoric from the general public targeting Arab and Muslim community members," said Abed Ayoub, the policy and legal director for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. 

The backlash against refugees has largely been fueled by reports that a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the suicide bombers near the Stade de France in Paris. A Greek official said passport belonged to a migrant who arrived on the island of Leros on October 3. Serbian officials, however, said they detained a man on Monday using another Syrian passport with the same number, adding to suspicions that the Paris attacker may have used forged documents.

Related: US Spy Agencies 'Scrubbing Intelligence' for Clues About Paris Attackers

Early indications are that the attackers were French or Belgian nationals, including some who may have traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at the G20 summit that it's possible one of the Paris attackers was "a migrant who abused the procedures."

"One has to see that those who organized these attacks and those that perpetrated them are exactly those that the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite," Juncker said. "As a result, there are no grounds to revise Europe's policies on the matter of refugees."

Watch the VICE News dispatch from Paris Fear And Tolerance: France At War:

The response from Republican governors in the US hasn't been nearly as measured. Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday refusing to accept any Syrians fleeing war, citing potential threats posed by "gaping holes" in the refugee screening process. Louisiana Governor and Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal issued an executive order refusing to allow any Syrian refugees into the state because of the potential "threat to the citizens and property of this state."

Nine other governors have also said in response to the Paris attacks they were not interested in taking in any Syrian refugees, citing concerns of Islamic terrorism. Jeff Sessions, a senator from Alabama, threatened to shut down the government over the issue, calling "for cancelling the blank check for refugee resettlement in the upcoming government funding bill."

Related: The Paris Attacks Are Already Starting to Shape the 2016 US Presidential Race

The impulse to close off the country's borders to Muslims only helps Islamic State recruiters, said Corey Saylor, the director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He pointed toward Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib as other examples that the militant group has used for propaganda purposes.

The language by politicians is one thing, Ayoub said, but if it turns into actions of violence against Muslim and Arab communities, "then we have a far more serious situation on our hands."

Hours after the Paris attack on Friday, a caller left voicemails for a Florida mosque threatening to commit mass acts of violence against Muslims.

'We're witnessing increasingly hate-filled rhetoric from the general public targeting Arab and Muslim community members.'

"I personally have a militia that's going to come down to your Islamic Society of Pinellas County and firebomb you, shoot whoever's there on sight in the head," the voicemail said. "I don't care if they're fucking two years old or 100."

In Canada, police in the town of Peterborough are investigating the burning of the town's only mosque as a possible hate crime.

Obama, speaking to the G20 summit on Monday, condemned the language from Republican politicians as giving into a "dark impulse" by calling for a religious test for people fleeing war to be allowed to come into the country.

"When I hear folks say that we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims," Obama said. "When some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful. That's not American, that's not who we are."

Saylor said he appreciates Obama taking a stand against some of the comments against Muslims coming to the US, but that he could still do more. He pointed toward President George W. Bush cautioning against anti-Islam impulses during a visit to a mosque in the days after the 9/11 attacks.

In this day and age, Saylor said, "I'd still like to see the [President] stand in a mosque and remind the country that all minority religions are very much a part of this country."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928