As Global Terrorism Climbs, Americans Are Levelheaded About Muslim Immigration

New York City Police Department counterterrorism officers stand guard outside the French Consulate, July 15, 2016 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

After a decline earlier this year, global terrorism is on the rise, and Americans are justifiably concerned about groups like ISIS. But despite the increase in attacks, as well as concern, there are reasons for hope—so long as our government doesn’t overreact against our rights or bully Muslims indiscriminately. Also, the U.S. needs to keep supporting groups in the Middle East that target ISIS, such as the Kurdish fighters.

First, the Bad News

The number of terror attacks in the world is on the rise. There were 155 terror attacks in January, 117 in February, 105 in March, and 103 in April, 153 in May, 150 in June, 218 in July, and 199 in August. Though it could be seasonal activity, this upward trend is alarming.

Americans seem to feel it too. In a 2017 Marist poll, 70 percent thought of ISIS as a serious threat. Only 22 percent saw the group as a minor threat, and five percent considered it no threat at all, a similar result to CNN polls in 2015 and 2016.

Now, Some Good News

It would be easy to conclude that this would lead Americans to chuck civil liberties out the window in the interest of national security. But a majority of Americans are more concerned that our anti-terrorism policies will go too far, as a 2017 survey from Quinnipiac reveals.

Nor are Americans willing to channel their fears into policies that pick on Muslims. While a majority of Republicans support the immigration ban from states that sponsor terrorism or have a lot of it, even Republicans reject banning all Muslims by a similar margin, almost by 22 percentage points. Large majorities of Democrats and Independents agree. This comes from a Monmouth University poll.

Every terror attack is an awful one. But the good news for Americans is that the Global Terrorism Database paints a very different picture from what is shown on the nightly newscasts. Few terror attacks occur in North America and Europe, as opposed to Central and South America, where it is dangerous to live anywhere from Guatemala and Nicaragua to Colombia and Peru.

Across the world, there is a pattern. Terror attacks are bunched in the middle of Central America, along with the rim of North Africa, and spots in the Middle East (Israel, Lebanon, Iraq), and South Asia from Afghanistan and Pakistan plus Sri Lanka to India and Bangladesh. In East Asia, only the Philippines seems overly besieged by terrorism. Geography plays a major role, especially in the band between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, while attacks in other areas, even America and Europe, are much less frequent. One might call it “A Bad Case of Latitude.”

In many cases, people are fleeing the environmental factors that play a role in triggering these wars and conflicts, where terrorism feeds upon the fighting. And when refugees come to America, they find a more supportive spot than what the media displays.

By a three to one margin, Americans feel that those coming to America should be allowed to stay, and a strong majority (63 percent) think that even those who come here illegally should have a way to stay and apply for citizenship, as a Quinnipiac survey reveals. And strong majorities oppose building the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, according to CBS.

Of course, there’s not enough room for all refugees in the Western World. Nor do all want to stay; many want to go back and rebuild neighborhoods in their former homes after the fighting stops. But that’s not going to happen as long as ISIS remains in the field, the brutal Assad regime continues denying basic human rights to many of its citizens, and external actors (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Lebanon’s Hezbollah) play games.

In this case, it’s best to back those who have demonstrated their loyalty with deeds, not words. Turkey’s Erdogan, for example, talks a good game about ISIS, promising all kinds of actions, while news occasionally leaks out that he’s dealing with this terror group in a different way. The Kurds have actually taken the fight directly against ISIS, only to be bombed by Turkey.

That has to change, unless people want terror attacks to increase, Americans to get more worried, and the U.S. and Europe to be visited by more ISIS and vehicle crashes and suicide bombs.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.  He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.