U.S. Sen. Carper: Defeat ISIS here at home

The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have made it all too clear that terrorists’ threats to Americans and our allies are real.

Whether these recent attacks were coordinated or inspired by ISIS or another terrorist group, many Americans are understandably fearful.

Right now, federal, state, and local officials are working hard to get to the bottom of the tragic events in California. We must use any and all information gleaned from this horrible tragedy, along with information gathered from the attacks in Paris, to do what we can to prevent another attack from happening either here on our soil or abroad.

That said, I believe the best way to combat the threat of ISIS across the globe is to continue to degrade and destroy their forces overseas and show the world that they are not as powerful as they claim to be. Our success will not only rob them of their safe haven, but also undercut their recruitment narrative that “ISIS is on the rise.”

The international coalition in the fight against ISIS continues to make progress dismantling and degrading the terrorist group.

French raids have destroyed the terror cell behind the Paris attacks and killed its leader.

The British have recently deployed their military power to combat ISIS in Syria.

Meanwhile, ISIS has lost 25 percent of its safe haven in Syria and Iraq this year.

Our coalition has eliminated ISIS fighters at a rate of 1,000 a month, and air strikes have killed its leaders, including Jihadi John, ISIS’s chief executioner, and Junaid Hussain, an online propagandist who directed the homegrown attack in Garland, Texas, last May.

But we must also focus on defeating the threat of ISIS here at home.

I realize that many Americans are concerned about terrorists traveling to our borders as refugees from Syria. But we have rigorous screening procedures in place for all refugees, as well as enhanced screening for refugees from Syria. Those seeking refugee status in our country are finger-printed, photographed, and vetted against national security databases before they ever set foot on a plane bound for the United States. The process can take two years.

Moreover, of the 23,000 Syrian refugees referred since 2011 by the United Nations to the United States as potential candidates for coming here, only 2,000 have been admitted. The vast majority of those refugees are families, and more than half are children. Not one has been arrested or removed from the United States on terrorism charges since coming here.

If I were a terrorist trying to enter the United States, the last thing I would ever do is risk detection by undergoing two years of rigorous screening by trained counterterrorism officials. That’s why I believe we must focus our attention on threats that pose a greater risk to our homeland.

As part of this process, we must examine the vulnerabilities of other forms of travel to our country, including the visa waiver program. It started as a travel facilitation tool but has become an information-sharing and security program we run in partnership with 38 of our closest allies. While our government has made significant security enhancements to the program over the past year, we must continue to make it ever more secure in the face of evolving threats.

However, as the tragedy in California underscores, the greatest threat we face is homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization. That’s why we must also work to destroy ISIS’s influence by countering their twisted message and inoculating against its efforts to radicalize our people here at home.

Fortunately, the Department of Homeland Security is doing just that in communities across our country. It has set up a new Office of Community Partnerships charged with alerting people to the dangers of ISIS and other terrorist groups. This office will help families and community and religious leaders understand and counter ISIS’s recruitment tactics. It will also help young people resist the lure of joining the ranks of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups. This program is sorely needed, and Congress must do more to support it.

In his remarks before Congress in September, Pope Francis reminded us of the Golden Rule. He called on all of us to treat others the way we want to be treated. It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Hindu, the “Cliffs Notes” to nearly every major religion is the Golden Rule. In Islam, it is expressed as, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

Unfortunately, a relatively small number of people have perverted a centuries-old religion and manipulated it to justify their own violent impulses. In order to generate support for their radical ideology, these extremists have deceived people into believing that the United States and the Western world are waging a holy war against Islam. Muslim leaders in the United States and around the world have routinely condemned ISIS and other terrorists as unrepresentative of the peaceful Muslims who make up the overwhelming majority of their faithful.

For those of us here in the United States to label the conflict with ISIS as a war against Islam, rather than as a war against extremism in all its forms, is to legitimize these terrorists’ twisted and distorted view of the world. Brushing all Muslims with the same broad brush that’s intended for a relative handful is not consistent with the Golden Rule or with the principles, values, and morals that we stand for as Americans. We are leaders and — as such — have an obligation to remind the world that these are the views of some, but certainly not the views of the lion’s share of Muslims in the world today.

Editor’s Note: U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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