5) Prevent Western-born ISIS fighters from returning home—and imprison them if they do.
Bearing arms for an enemy country has long been regarded as a basis for depriving people of their citizenship rights. In an era where enemies can be non-state actors, however, this ancient provision of law has become ineffective. A Briton who returned to Germany to fight for the kaiser could logically be seen as reverting to German nationality. But what nationality has an ISIS fighter become? ISIS claims to be a state. Nobody accepts that claim, and international law forbids rendering persons altogether stateless.
What can be done is this: Dual nationals who bear arms for ISIS can be deprived of their Western passports and right of re-entry. Canada already does this for persons convicted of serious terrorism offenses. (The new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau proposes to reverse this element of law.) In his address to the French nation on Monday, President Francois Hollande urged a similar measure.
Even when stripping Western ISIS fighters of citizenship is impractical, countries can recognize adherence to a foreign terrorist entity as a serious crime in itself. This will in some cases deter ISIS fighters from returning home, and in others enable the returned fighter to be imprisoned if he tries.
6) Don’t make the problem bigger.
Europe is coping poorly with its large population of alienated, under-employed, and in some cases radicalized Muslim immigrants and their children. It seems then the zenith of recklessness to make that population larger still. Yet that’s what’s been happening over the past three years. The migration is not only Syrian; it comes from the greater Muslim world, extending from Senegal to Pakistan. This summer, Europe’s border controls collapsed under the pressure of this migration.
The risk is not primarily that a few people already committed to terrorism will slip into Europe along with this vast movement of people, although that is a risk. The greater risk is that this new wave of Middle Eastern immigration will repeat the experience of prior waves: more failure to adjust, more under-employment, more alienation, more extremism, more violence.
It will be the work of many years to successfully absorb and acculturate the new population that has arrived in Europe since the 1970s. Yet many European policymakers seem to be following the bureaucratic rule: “If you don’t know how to solve a problem, make it bigger.” This course is endlessly justified by invoking the experience of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler. There’s considerable irony in that analogy, since one immediate effect of the new migration has been to drive some of Europe’s last remaining Jews into a new exodus, with 7,000 departing France for Israel in 2014. But the real error of the analogy is that it fails to reckon with the economic and cultural realities of two very different populations and two very different migrations. History isn’t repeating itself.
The refusal of Barack Obama and other world leaders to reference the Islamic character of the Islamic State is probably tactful. But it’s one thing to refrain from provocative words, another to suppress true thoughts. You can’t act against a problem you won’t acknowledge. Which may be why the West appears headed to a bigger war in Syria, in response to killers who came from Belgium.