Let in the refugees.
George Packer in the New Yorker this week:
A lot of people in this country are disgracing themselves this week. They include politicians of both parties — though many more Republicans than Democrats — and all regions. Their motives vary: deep-seated bigotry, unreasoning fear, spinelessness, opportunism, or some unholy mix of them all.
They say you only really know the true nature of someone’s character in a crisis. Similarly, you only know the character of your country when people are in need. For citizens of the US and the UK — the two major countries I’ve called “home” — there has been a lot to be ashamed of.
We have the threat of terrorism, now from Isis, and atrocities being committed all over the world. We also have a stream of people who are fleeing those same atrocities, in a manner that is reminiscent of Jewish people fleeing the Nazis before and during the second world war.
Back then, both the US and the UK turned down Jewish refugees, sending them back to their deaths in mainland Europe. There were numerous reasons, which you can now hear by watching the news, as they are parrotted by today’s politicians as reasons we shouldn’t accept refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Of course, they maintain that this is a different debate. It’s not. As Josh Zeitz writes in Politico:
In short, most of the elements that conservatives like David Frum cite as differentiating factors between now and then — fear of refugee violence, fear of their inability or desire to assimilate, concern over their economic dependence, suspicion of their ideological alienation and radicalism — were in fact central to the debate over admitting Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
Considering today’s refugees in the same way does not diminish the plight of the Jews in the second world war, or in any way lessen the horrors of the Holocaust. This week, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum felt the need to release a statement:
Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.
The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.
If you want to find racist and xenophobic arguments, you often have to look no further than Facebook. Here are two:
I’ve seen arguments that the immigrants are all fighting-age men, and a secret army is somehow being sent to destroy the US from within, like the plot of a bad 1980s cold war action movie. When I responded with the actual UN demographics of registered refugees, I was told one can’t trust the UN because of their treatment of Israel. So far, the logic on display is so loose that I haven’t found an adequate way to respond.
I’ve also seen many arguments which agree with Ted Cruz that we should be screening for Christians. Ironically, Cruz’s suggestion itself proves that Christians aren’t necessarily more moral than anyone else. “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said, forgetting that the majority of domestic terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been committed by white Christians.
I believe it’s important to stand up to these kinds of arguments. For many people, discussing politics online — or around the Thanksgiving table — is taboo. But words matter, and deeds matter. The plight of an entire group of people fleeing terror and death in part depends on us changing the minds of the population, and sending a signal to our representatives that racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated.
Shouting at each other isn’t necessarily effective, although we’ve developed a culture of it (and sometimes voices need to shout to be heard). We need to sit down, particularly with our loved ones, and have reasoned, fact-based conversations that lead to mutual understanding.
Love has to win. Peoples’ lives are at stake.
Originally published at werd.io on November 22, 2015.