On 9/11, I was in Washington DC. It was of course chaotic, but I wanted to help. After I started hearing stories, later, of Canadians who had taken stranded passengers in, I thought, “Why didn’t I go down to the airport and bring some people home that day?” It had never occurred to me.
Fast-forward to Hurricane Katrina. I called the number they gave and volunteered to house some people forced out of their homes. A guy from the government came by. He inspected my home. He had to make sure the space was up to code, of course, and was dubious over small things (We lived there, after all).
But we lived in an urban, mixed-class neighborhood, and had a house nicer than approximately 99 percent of the world’s people. It was better than good enough for us, so I can’t really understand how it wouldn’t be fabulous for someone fleeing utter destruction. But they never sent anyone to stay. Government sucks.
I have little confidence in the Obama administration to effectively screen Syrian (and other) refugees legitimately fleeing rape and annihilation. But we do have systems and protocols for refugees. It’s something Americans know how to do.
My husband worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2006 when the short Lebanon war happened. He helped U.S. citizens who had evacuated the country. Some of them literally swam to the boat with nothing. Somehow it wasn’t a problem to sift through them and send them to where they needed to be. We screened and sorted tens of thousands in a few days.
We Can’t Stop Being America
This reaction against accepting Middle Eastern refugees is fear-based, not rational. It’s a scary world that President Obama’s ineptitude has made scarier, which is even more reason to stick to the core of our values. Clearly the nationwide reaction against accepting more refugees is in part an expression of doubt that the Obama administration won’t screw it up or willfully do it badly. We don’t trust this administration. That is legit. They have an awful track record.
But we are the good guys and we seek the good guys. We shouldn’t forget that. The Bush doctrine makes sense. There are those who want freedom and democracy. We cannot leave them hanging. We have, and it kills me.
There are people who want to hurt us and who can get here whether we accept refugees or not. In Europe, the path is physically possible. Here, it’s not the same. Our oceans are a barrier. Frankly, I think it would be easier for terrorists to cross the Mexico border than blend in with refugees into the United States.
I do get the efficiency argument that other places are closer and easier for taking in refugees. That’s a strong argument. I don’t see how we’re supporting refugees as a country in other places. But we probably are because that’s what we’re set up to do and we just do it without fanfare.
Muslims Aren’t One Monolithic Group
My bigger problem is philosophical. I think some on the Right do not like people without white skin. It’s ugly. I am for controlling immigration, but not for the same reasons as people who fear and dislike, let’s face it, non-white people entering the country. I think racism is real in this issue. Not everyone is racist, but some are, and it’s a big motivator in the debate.
So when Donald Trump says Mexicans are rapists, that’s what I see: Racism. And it’s only worse with this refugee issue.
Secondly, I think there’s a lot of willful ignorance here. Muslims are vastly varied, like Christians are. There are different kinds, different schools. It really, really bothers me to hear people lumping in with terrorists the very people who should be our allies against the terrorists.
There are Muslims who have fought and spilled their blood to stop the totalitarians. Who want reform. Who want modernization. Who have suffered for it. Muslims have suffered, and will continue to suffer, in this conflict of civilizations more than we ever will in the West. To say “The Muslims” are more dangerous than other peoples is not only devastatingly ignorant but also offensive.
Further, it’s un-American to judge such a large people group with so many variations on just the fact that they follow, in some way, Mohammed. We don’t do that. That’s what the other side does. We are capable of finding nuance and difference. We are capable of judging by the content of the character rather than the ethnicity or faith of a huge group of people.
For me, here’s a bottom line. We all know there are Muslims who have blown themselves up to kill people. In many of these cases, in the Middle East, there are Muslim men who threw themselves in front of the bombers to save others. It’s been documented several times. Why are we saying those two people are the same? The heroes should be celebrated and encouraged.