If your Facebook news-feed is anything like mine, then it has blown up this week with people saying some pretty outrageous things about Syrian refugees and why we should be scared of them. With some of the people I associate with on Facebook, I was not surprised at all to see that fear mongering coming to the surface so quickly, but a lot of others took me by surprise. ISIS has clearly hit a nerve with a lot of Westerners by making them fearful of families made up of mostly women and children, and causing the word refugee to now be considered synonymous with terrorist. To listen to some people, you would think 4 million terrorists have recently migrated out of Syria and are now looking for new places to call home and then attack.
This fear and hatred was first stoked by reports that said a passport found at one of the Paris attack sites belonged to a Syrian terrorist who had come into Europe by posing as a refugee. For many, that was all they needed to hear to make up their minds on this issue. However, French authorities now believe the passport belonged to a Syrian soldier who died months ago and was planted to cause the backlash against Muslims and Arabs we are now seeing across the Western World. This will be lost on most of these people because their blinders have already gone on and new information that goes against the narrative they want to believe will not be welcomed.
“But Brian? Why would ISIS want to cause a backlash against Muslims?” Well, I’m glad you asked. As Islamaphobia spreads and more and more hateful and discriminatory words and actions are taken against Muslims and Arabs, like my hometown mayor in Roanoke, Virginia embarrassingly comparing the need to keep Syrians out to America’s need to intern Japanese Americans during WWII, ISIS wins. It becomes easier for them to recruit people who already feel unwelcomed, marginalized and isolated. But again, the fact that people who are speaking and acting so hatefully and fearfully against people fleeing violence is playing right into ISIS’s hands will not be a concern of theirs and will not overcome their knee-jerk reaction.
Along with all this comes the many ironies of this whole thing, not the least of which is that the first states in America to officially announce they would seek to ban Syrian refugees from settling within their borders are also states that pride themselves of being Christian and many of them are located in what is called the Bible Belt. I’m not particularly religious, myself, but I do respect a lot of the teachings found in the Bible, and I have a hard time believing that Jesus would turn his back on people who are so clearly in need of help.
And, of course, these same people yelling to close the door on Syrian immigrants are also the same people who say they want it done to protect America, the country that they love. They say this while being seemingly unaware of America’s long proud tradition of taking in immigrants from all over the world. But this is not surprising because they also don’t seem to realize they are playing another traditional American role of fearing immigrants and making them feel unwelcomed. Be it Hispanics today or the Jews during World War II, the Irish before that or even the Germans before that who came in such large numbers some states banned German from being taught for fear the language would take over, America has always taken in new immigrants and always freaked about how they would destroy the country at the same time (just to be clear, these people were always wrong).
However, I think the greatest irony of all is that nearly all the people I know who want to protect America from the nearly unprecedented case of a terrorist coming into the country by posing as an immigrant are also all against gun control reform. Since 9/11, the US has taken in close to 800,000 refugees and and only three have been charged with plotting terrorists acts, and they were all related to aiding groups in Uzbekistan. So is the threat posed by ISIS really that different than the threat posed by Al-Qaeda? Are people against refugees really going to claim Al-Qaeda never thought of trying to send a terrorist over as a refugee? Simply put, we have a screening process for refugees, and it clearly works.
What doesn’t work is America’s ability to protect it’s citizens from other Americans. So far this year more than 300 Americans have been killed in mass shootings alone. This leads me to one inescapable conclusion: the people who want to ban Syrian refugees, but who do not want to limit people’s access to weapons aren’t worried about violence nearly as much as they are about who is committing the violence. To them I ask, “why are you OK doing nothing while Americans kill each other by the thousands, but are against giving mostly women and children a safe place to rest their heads for fear a Muslim extremist might do what we do to each other daily? Why am I supposed to fear being killed by a Muslim more than being killed by a Christian? Especially in light of the fact that the latter is tremendously more likely to happen. How come if white people kill en masse, I’m told there’s nothing that can be done to stop it, but the mere threat of a brown person doing the same warrants compassion for anyone who shares his skin tone being thrown out the window?”