American Governors' Islamophobic Response To the Refugee Crisis
In the aftermath of an internationally recognized tragedy, one would expect the world to come together and display overwhelming shows of solidarity and grace to the victims. Unfortunately, I don’t think that American politicians got the memo. Mayors and GOP presidential candidates alike have spent the days following the tragic attacks in Beirut, Paris, and other cities targeted by ISIS by coming after the one group actively struggling to escape the terrorists that we are fighting: Syrian refugees. A global crisis that revolves around the survival of innocent people has become politicized and entrapped within Islamophobia, which is exactly what the Muslim community feared in the aftermath of the tragedies this past week.
News coverage has shifted from mourning to monstrous, as politicians across the country have called for a closing off of borders and religious tests to weed out the “good” refugees from the “bad.” This kind of selective acceptance based on religion isn’t new. It’s rooted in history, and parallels the popular opinion of Americans during the last major refugee crisis the world faced.
From WWII to Now: History Repeats
When Adolf Hitler was on the cusp of one of the most atrocious genocides in world history, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Germany, Austria, and other countries under siege began to look desperately for nations that would take them in. If that sounds eerily similar to the Syrians fleeing almost certain death at the hands of their government and ISIS, that’s because it’s the same situation—almost eighty years later.
These two polls from 1938 and 1939 are telling of American anti-Semitic attitudes toward mainly immigrants who were seeking political refuge at the start of World War II. In one poll a year before the war officially began, 67.4% of respondents thought the U.S. government should try to keep out refugees. Shortly after that poll was released, Germany embarked on Kristallnacht—or “Night of Broken Glass.” It led to the destruction of 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland and shattered shop windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments. Historically, attacks against religious communities have continued this trend of destroying places of worship, like the current wave of arsons against black churches and the proposal by the GOP’s leading racist scumbag Donald Trump to close mosques if he becomes President.
US Jan 20 ’39: Should the US government permit 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children to come in from Germany? pic.twitter.com/5cFs5RabQn
— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 17, 2015
As anti-Jewish sentiment reached a breaking point, refugees began to flee in even larger groups. The January 1939 poll shown above has 61% of respondents answering “no” when asked if they would take in 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. As depressing as it is to know that’s the way Americans during that time approached the refugee crisis, it’s even more depressing to know that almost nothing has changed. Xenophobia guided the United States’ refugee policy in WWII until 1944, when the true horrors of the Holocaust were uncovered. Are we to sit back again and wait for another instance of genocide before our hearts and borders open up to the mostly Muslim survivors who have risked their lives to flee to America? That’ll be the plan, if it’s left to our politicians, who will switch out anti-Semitism for Islamophobia as they create programs and politics to keep certain refugees out while allowing others in.
Introducing the Governors Guided By Hate and Bigotry
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin have all become no-go states for refugee resettlement, because the governors seem to have no problem equating all refugees from Syria with terrorism.
How does it feel to know that over half of the states in America are led by governors that have come out with statements banning Syrian refugees from relocating there? If your answer ranged from disgust and outrage to sadness and disbelief, you are not alone. Social media has blown up with statements of condemnation over the 27 governors—all but one of them being Republican—protesting Syrian refugees. Their flawed rationale is that by allowing Muslim refugees into the country and into their states, it will lead to terrorist attacks in America by these people who—again—are literally trying to flee the same people we fight against. Oh, and it also conveniently ignores the fact that every single identified assailant except one in the Paris siege was a European national.
The United States has accepted only 1,500 Syrian refugees since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year. To put that into perspective, it’s essential to remember that out of the total 22 million Syrians who lived in the country before the conflict, over 11 million have fled and more than 250,000 have died since 2011. The enormous scope of tragedy facing this population has little weight on the irrational minds of the governors calling for bans or increased vetting procedures for refugees coming to America.
Of all the egregious and offensive statements of concern to come out of state governor’s mouths during this wave of Islamophobia-fueled resistance to the refugee crisis, it is barely-hanging-on GOP presidential candidate and New Jersey governor Chris Christie who takes the prize for Most Awful Human Award today. Speaking on the Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, he said that not even “3-year-old orphans” would be permitted entry. With an answer that hateful, he’d fit right in with the pre-WWII Americans who would’ve refused 10,000 Jewish children in 1939.
What The Presidential Candidates Are Saying
Like any major international crisis during election season, many of the candidates for the presidency have come out with suggestions for tackling the refugee problem. While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have called for compassion and openness to the refugees, the suggestions coming from some of the GOP candidates range from mildly Islamophobic to completely hateful and downright evil. Both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have expressed support for allowing refugees into the United States with the important caveat that they are of the Christian faith—seriously.
“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said Sunday in South Carolina. A day later, Cruz announced he would introduce legislation to ban Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the country. Adding on to the blatant Islamophobia came good ole’ Jeb! Bush.
“I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected, because they are being slaughtered in the country and but for us who,” he pleaded to supporters. “Who would take care of the number of Christians that right now are completely displaced?”
For his part, Trump didn’t go for creative “save the Christians” angle, and instead doubled down on his targeting of mosques. “I would hate to do it, but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred — the absolute hatred — is coming from these areas,” Trump said on MSNBC. If someone could please explain to him that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world so that chances of someone of that faith committing a terrorist act stands at far less than 1%. Then again, facts and statistics don’t seem to be appealing in a political party that tends to pride itself on saying the most outlandish and ridiculous things possible.
The fact is, Syrian refugees are not the ones we need to fear. It is Islamophobia, bigotry, and hatred that stands as our biggest challenge moving forward in the fight against ISIS. As Lavinia Limón, president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, explained:
“The definition of a refugee is someone fleeing oppression. They’re fleeing terrorism. They’ve experienced what happened in Paris on a daily basis.”
No matter how many statements of protest or hateful ideas come out of the American political sphere, these governors and politicians will continue to have their Islamophobia buried under the weight of federal legislation. States do not have the authority to refuse entry to migrants because the resettlement plan is federally funded and protected by the 1980 Refugee Act. As the country’s leaders continue their disappointing displays of Islamophobia and stupidity, we leave you again with a statement from President Obama, who is currently debating the issue alongside other world leaders at the G20 summit in Turkey.
“It is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us,” he explained. “Whether you are European or American, you know the values that we are defending — the values we’re fighting against ISIL for — are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them.”
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