Donald Trump wants to ban every last Muslim from entering the United States. Governors across the country reacted to news that the United States would accept a minuscule number of Syrian refugees (in comparison to such countries as Germany, Lebanon, and Turkey among others) by racing to tell the federal government they won’t take in any Syrian refugees. And, public opinion in this country is mostly skeptical or downright hostile to the Syrians, who are coming here not in pursuit of the American dream or to commit acts of terrorism but to save their skins.
The terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, perpetrated by a husband and wife team of extremists, neither of them Syrians or refugees, helped fuel many people’s fear and/or hatred of Muslims in general, including Syrians, many of whom are fleeing from the same kind of ultra-radical murderers who carried out the San Bernardino massacre. In a climate of exaggerated, undifferentiated fear, Islamophobia, and political demagoguery, draconian proposals to keep out all Muslims or refuse to accept genuine refugees fleeing for their lives don’t fall on deaf ears.
The irony is that this kind of overreaction is exactly what the terrorists hope for. The overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t identify with killers of innocent people so the only way the terrorists can win the allegiance of the Muslim masses is if, through our actions, we lend credence to the Muslims-versus-the-world ideology ISIS and their brethren espouse. Indeed, I have no doubt these malevolent folks are rooting for Donald Trump to become the next U.S. president.
Beyond the sheer counterproductive nature of the reaction, the question is what happened to America, land of immigrants, haven for the persecuted, the land of the free and the home of the brave? What is happening is not only a travesty of what is best in the American tradition. It’s a response that shows no bravery whatsoever.
Where did the convictions inscribed in the Statue of Liberty go? Perhaps they migrated north. Consider the following account from the AP published last week:
“The first Canadian government plane carrying Syrian refugees arrived in Toronto late Thursday where they were greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is pushing forward with his pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.
“The welcome given to the military flight carrying 163 refugees stands in stark contrast to the United States. Canada’s much more populous southern neighbor plans to take in just 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, and even that is provoking opposition. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump caused a worldwide uproar with a proposal to temporarily block Muslims from entering the U.S.
“The flight from Jordan arrived just before midnight carrying the first of two large groups of Syrian refugees to arrive in the country by government aircraft.
“Trudeau greeted some of the families to come through processing. The first family was Kevork Jamkossian, a blacksmith from Aleppo, his wife Georgina Zires, a sales clerk, and their 16-month-old daughter, Madeleine.
“‘We really would like to thank you for all this hospitality and the warm welcome,’ the father said to Trudeau through an interpreter. ‘We felt ourselves at home.’
“All 10 of Canada’s provincial premiers support taking in the refugees and members of the opposition, including the Conservative party, attended the welcoming late Thursday. Trudeau was also joined by the ministers of immigration, health and defense, as well as Ontario’s premier and Toronto’s mayor.
“In the U.S., several Republican governors have tried to stop the arrival of Syrian refugees in their states in the wake of the deadly attacks blamed on Islamic extremists in Paris and California.”
The story is vastly different north of the border:
“‘They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians,”’ Trudeau said. “This is something that we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people around the world share.’”
The contrast between the Canadian welcome and the entire American discourse on Muslims in general and Syrians in particular is embarrassing. Some might justify the difference by pointing to the fact that Canada never has suffered anything like 9/11 or a San Bernardino-type attack.
But the 9/11 plotters and attackers, from Osama on down, were almost all Saudis, not Syrians. After 9/11, the United States continued to have excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, and no one ever suggested barring all Saudi princes from visiting this country.
The Canadian example shows that a different policy and a different attitude is possible on the question of refugees from Muslim countries. But it is possible only in a country devoid of the toxic mix of fear, reflexive anti-Muslim prejudice, and political opportunism and/or cowardice that today reigns in the United States.
I have to conclude that, unfortunately, the 9/11 and the San Bernardino terrorists won those battles. Not through perpetrating the mass murder of innocent people but by instilling such fear among Americans as to lead too many of them to jettison values that previous generations fought and died to uphold, including ‘no’ to torture, ‘no’ to warrantless government spying on Americans, and an open door to people escaping persecution regardless of race or creed.
[Photo at top of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada.]