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Another Voice: Dangerous rhetoric on Syrian refugees needs to stop

By Devlin Winkelstein

Extremists will continue to use terrorism as long as it works. Since the Paris attacks, 31 U.S. governors as well as many presidential candidates, members of Congress and city leaders have espoused the view that Syrian refugees – specifically, Muslim Syrian refugees – pose a threat to American citizens and should not be allowed into the United States. They have joined a long list of European leaders in giving the Islamic State – or ISIS – exactly what it wanted.

There has been strikingly little conversation about why ISIS appears to be intent on uniting the world against it. Let’s take stock of a few of ISIS’ activities over the past month. In addition to the attacks in Paris, the Islamic State has blown up a Russian airliner, executed a Chinese hostage, threatened the United States (again) and engaged in an online war with the hacker group Anonymous. What is ISIS hoping to achieve?

ISIS wants a world war between Muslims and non-Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims think that ISIS’ calls for global jihad are as ridiculous as they are reprehensible.

They feel the same way that I do when a white man attacks an African-American church group in the hopes of igniting a race war. Of course Dylann Roof does not represent me, regardless of whether or not he says that he does. Of course the Paris attackers do not represent Muslims, regardless of whether or not they say that they do.

But it only takes one side to start a war. The Islamic State knows it has a far better chance of convincing non-Muslims that Muslims are a threat than the other way around.

ISIS is betting that it can start this war, this “clash of civilizations,” before American, European and Russian bombs grind it into dust.

So far, the bet is paying off. Every time another U.S. presidential candidate or governor calls for the surveillance of mosques, registration of Muslims or rejection of Syrian refugees, we are handing the Islamic State a victory.

With every victory, ISIS’ incentive to conduct more attacks increases. We are making America and the world a more dangerous place.

Violence begets fear. But leadership in times of crisis means rising above fear and reminding people about the values that make them who they are.

We need to remind ourselves and the world that terrorists represent themselves and no one else. We need to remind ourselves and the world that Islam is a religion of peace. We need to remind ourselves and the world that Syrian families have been through hell and need our compassion.

And we need to grind ISIS into dust.

Devlin Winkelstein is a Buffalo native and active duty infantry officer in the Army with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University, focusing on irregular warfare. These views are his own.