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Bar News - December 16, 2015

Opinion: When It Comes to Terrorism Response, Are We Doing Our Best?


Terrorists are doing what they do best: killing and terrorizing. I understand that. The question I have is: Are we doing what we do best?

Extremists are killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims worldwide. Peaceful people are understandably afraid. European radicals responsible for the recent attacks in Paris were likely under the influence or direction of fanatical barbarians stationed in Syria. And we are trying to figure out how to respond, how to protect ourselves, even as we join victims and their families in sorrow and anger.

The urge to close our borders to Syrian refugees, as a way to avoid the risk a dangerous radical might gain entry into the United States, is understandable. But is it necessary to deny asylum to desperate, displaced families, because they are Muslim? Isnít there as much risk that some of the 12 million Muslims already living here might become alienated or even radicalized by rigid treatment of Syrian refugees?

No system is perfect, but Syrians currently undergo intense security clearance that may take up to two years. They are subject to background and fingerprint checks. Their documents are examined against classified and unclassified information. Homeland Security officials interview them, and if approved, they undergo medical screening and assimilation classes.

On the other hand, extremists with European passports can enter the country without the extra scrutiny Syrian refugees get. So using Syrian entry as a way to send jihadists here may not seem as efficient to fanatics as we think.

My Christian grandfather came here from Lebanon over a hundred years ago to escape religious intolerance and to participate in the American dream. After struggling to earn passage for my grandmother, he sent for her and their two sons. They were religious, respectful and anxious to become Americans. Like many immigrants, they had little money, no skills and did not speak English. But they were not discouraged. They learned the language, helped build a Lebanese church, had three more sons, including my father, and worked hard at low-paying jobs under onerous conditions, to make a better life for their children, and grandchildren; for which I am truly thankful.

Does that history mean I know anything about terrorists? Not at all. But I do know something about Muslims. Over the last 25 years, I have worked on United States Rule of Law projects with Muslims throughout Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and in Indonesia where 90 percent of the 250 million people living there are Muslims. The ones I met everywhere were hard-working, respectful, generous, and peaceful. They pray, fast, celebrate, and they worship the same god as Christians and Jews. They share our love of family. They want what we want for children and grandchildren: a safe environment, a warm home, an adequate education, and unlimited horizons.

I have a strong belief that our leaders can develop reasonable measures to reduce the risk that determined terrorists will enter our country, while at the same time showing respect for Muslims living here and compassion for Muslim families and peaceful refugees seeking sanctuary from abroad.

I hope there is time to pause for a moment to consider whether we are doing our best to make sure responses to terrorist acts do not take us down a path that may lead to a gradual surrender of values we have so long held and so readily shared.

Joseph Nadeau

Joseph Nadeau is an international judicial consultant and former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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