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UNCW Terrorism Specialist Says Banning Refugees Isn't The Answer

Syrian refugees in Budapest, Hungary

Leaders across the country – including North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory – are calling for a hold on accepting Syrian refugees.  But WHQR’s Isabelle Shepherd reports that a terrorism specialist from UNCW says this move won’t decrease the threat of terror.  In fact, it may increase it. 

Professor Daniel Masters teaches Terrorism & Counterterrorism at UNCW.  He says banning refugees is playing into a terrorist strategy:

“What terrorists want countries to do is to default on their brand. So, as a country, the United States is perceived as this liberal, Democratic country. We’ve always been a very open, immigrant-based country. So, if you can create a situation where you show the United States starting to act like, say, the Soviet Union during the Cold War, where we’re throwing up walls, we are trying to limit the movement of people. Well, then that just takes the entire image we have of our country and just throwing it out the window.”

Masters says that creates a propaganda victory for the terrorists.  His proposed solution?  Welcome the immigrants and make them feel accepted, so they develop an affinity for the United States.

Governor McCrory has stated that North Carolina should not receive any additional refugees until he is satisfied with the thoroughness and effectiveness of federal background and security checks.


Since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory appealed to President Obama to put a hold on resettling Syrian refugees in North Carolina.  But Professor Daniel Masters, a terrorism specialist from UNCW, says the incoming refugees rarely turn to radical jihad. 

Listen to the audio version here.

Isabelle Shepherd: You’ve said that the children of refugees are more susceptible to radicalization than their parents.  Why is this, and what can be done to reduce the risk of them turning to terrorist groups?

Dr. Daniel Masters: The reason the second generation tends to be more vulnerable to, say, this kind of radicalization is they are this generation that’s somewhat caught between two worlds.  At home, they’re probably exposed to a life that is much more like what they might experience in their home country.  Yet as soon as they walk out the door they’re exposed entirely to their adoptive country.  Some children in these environments can feel isolated, lonely, out of touch, uncertain of really who they are.  They might have somewhat of identity crisis, which makes them more vulnerable to radicalization.  By reaching out to those people, talking to them in school – you know, I’ll just say this, my daughter is half-Russian.  Her school goes out of its way at times to have a Russian day or to talk to her about, “Hey, how would you do this in Russia? Or what’s this like in Russia?”  Small things like that can be meaningful to helping immigrants and refugees feel welcome and at home.

IS: What can be done to help integrate immigrant populations into American culture?

DM: One, we distribute them fairly widely throughout the United States which prohibits kind of creating ethnically-based ghettos.  That’s good, because when you create ethnically-based ghettos in a society, usually those ghettos tend to have an unequal distribution of services in society and creates a sense of angst and animosity.  Since we distribute throughout society, we don’t have that much of the concentrated geographic group that might be sharing miserable experiences.

IS: What can we do as a country to welcome immigrant groups?  

DM: As a country, we’ve dealt with and absorbed wave after wave after wave of immigrant groups in the past.  We’re fairly adept at it as a culture.  People tend to assimilate fairly well into American society over time.  That works as opposed to the attempts to try to force people into adopting your culture.  For instance, I’m not going to blame these laws in France of having created the Paris attacks, but it didn’t help when you start putting in place laws and policies that would, say, prohibit public observance of your religion, say through traditional dress and attire.  You start telling people, “Hey, you can’t dress, even though your religion demands this of you, you can’t do this.”  You’re going to create a group of people who’re going to, you know, they’re going to feel targeted, they’re going to feel excluded from society.  Inside the United States, we don’t do that.  We don’t take those kinds of steps.  We tend to reach out.  Even in rural communities, people tend to be very curious, they’re very engaging, they will talk with people.  You’ll see that there’s a lower probably of the second-generation refugee from the United States going overseas.  We do have it.  There’s no doubt about it, especially we’ve seen this particularly with the Somali population up and around Minnesota, up and around Minneapolis.  But by and large in the society, we’ve done a good job of welcoming refugees into society, which tends to work against this.

IS: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

DM: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.