by Walter Brasch
Fear, laced with paranoia, is driving the American response against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
President Obama has said he would accept 10,000 refugees, all of them subjected to intense scrutiny before being admitted to the country. France, with a population about one-fifth that of the United States, despite the worst attack on its soil since World War II, will accept 30,000 refugees.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the Senate, “We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS because some politician doesn’t like their religion.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), a Jew, said the nation should “not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia,” and that when “thousands of people have lost everything—have nothing left but the shirts on their backs—we will not turn our backs on the refugees.”
They are among a minority. Only 28 percent of Americans believe the nation should allow Syrian refugees into the United States, according to an independent Bloomberg poll. Fifty-three percent say absolutely deny any Syrian refugee, and apparently anyone who is a Muslim, a place in the United States; 11 percent say admit only Christians; 8 percent aren’t sure.
The governors of 30 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have also said they don’t want Syrian refugees in their states. Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has even ordered his state agencies to deny residence to two Syrian families who had undergone extensive background checks by the FBI and other agencies and were scheduled to be relocated in Indianapolis. The governors’ opinion, fueled by politics not compassion, really doesn’t matter; the acceptance and relocation of refugees fleeing oppression is a federal not a state issue.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), born in Canada but with dual American and Canadian citizenship, doesn’t want Syrian refugees in his adopted country. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), born in the United States three months after his parents left India, doesn’t want his adopted country to admit Syrian refugees.
Donald Trump, with a northern European heritage and currently the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, had previously declared if he was the president he would build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and round up and deport 11 million undocumented aliens, actions clearly in the fairy-tale netherland of impossibility, but definitely in the land of rhetoric meant to pander to his extreme right-wing following. In response to the murders in France, he says he would close mosques. However, not one terrorist attack in the United States was hatched and carried out in a mosque. More important, Trump’s actions would be a violation not only of the First Amendment but everything the Founding Fathers believed.
Jeb Bush said the U.S. should admit only Syrian refugees who are Christians. It was a stupid comment when he said it; it was just as stupid when he later “clarified” it by saying if the U.S. admitted any Muslim, it should only be after extensive screening. As President Obama tried to explain to the fear-mongers, it takes up to two years for the U.S. to admit any refugee from any country, and only after extensive screening. Even more important than screening refugees, the Constitution clearly doesn’t allow either acceptance or rejection of those who seek U.S. residency because of their religion, something Bush and the conservatives should have known, especially if they wish to run for any office, from local constable to the presidency of the United States.
Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) says he has an idea how to defeat ISIS. The proselytizing presidential candidate wants to create a government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values around the world. It’s doubtful that many conservatives will be promoting any “Judeo-” values, because American Jews tend to lean more to liberal beliefs than other religions.
State Rep. Glen Casada, Republican caucus leader in Tennessee, wants the Tennessee National Guard to round up all Syrian refugees who are lawful residents of his state and to deport them—if not back to Syria, at least to some other state. State Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-R.I.) wants to create internment camps for any Syrian refugee admitted into her state. Most Pennsylvania republican legislators, spewing their caucus’s talking points, said they had “grave concerns” about Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to allow Syrian refugees to live in the state where the Declaration of Independence was written.
Texas State Rep. Tony Dale, one of the nation’s most ardent defenders of the right to own guns, and who consistently receives grades of “A” from the NRA, added yet another reason to deny Syrian refugees admission to the United States. Without recognizing the irony and the hypocrisy, he said it would be too easy for refugees to buy guns.
In the history of the United States, just the members of the white-hooded Protestant-professing fire-and-brimstone Klan killed and maimed more Americans than all the murders by non-Christian terrorists—and that includes 9/11. Add in the number of serial killers, the racists who killed children in churches, the zealots who killed health care personnel because they performed legal abortions, and the people like the Oklahoma City bombers and the Unabomber, and the number of pretend-Christians killing Americans rises to hundreds of times greater than any Muslim attack.
Responding to the Islamophobia perpetuated by braggadocio-spewing politicians, an outraged President Obama said that the conservatives believe they could stand up against the leaders of any country, but “Apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States.” There are some conservatives who say the U.S. should take care of their own first before admitting any refugee. But, conservatives, true to their political ideology, consistently vote against social programs, including aid to combat veterans. When not resorting to inane arguments, the extreme right-wing says the way to destroy ISIS is for the U.S. to send a few hundred thousand soldiers into Syria. It’s jingoistic hysteria couched in fear. It’s also the same logic that didn’t work in Iraq, and isn’t working in Afghanistan.
In 1939, more than 60 percent of Americans, according to a poll by the American Institute of Public Opinion, said the U.S. should not admit 10,000 European Jewish children. Later that year, the U.S. turned back the MS St. Louis, carrying 908 passengers, most of them Jewish refugees.
During the early 1930s, there was a politician who blamed Jews for his nation’s problems, and who used the rhetoric of fear, hate, and paranoia to become the elected leader of his countrymen. None of the Republican presidential candidates or their right-wing followers rise to the level of that politician who became a dictator. But, their poisonous hate and Islamophobic rhetoric matches that of Hitler.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, professor emeritus of mass communications, and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]