Let’s be honest: as much as some Americans might wish it otherwise, our history is filled with examples of us being the same scared herd animals the rest of humanity is. Our current imbroglio over Syrian refugees is not surprise. Yes, we are absolutely as willing as the next large group of hairy animals to jettison our stated morals and standards when convenience dictates. When fear dictates. We are, in the end, only human.
How many times in our history can we cite in which we fell below our Lady Liberty’s standards? When we’ve asked for our immigrants to be a little less tired and a little less poor? When we’ve asked those seeking our shores to huddle a little less closely to us?
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Today it seems clear, we’re poised to make the same mistakes with the Syrian refugees for many of the same reasons. In fact, some of our nation’s leaders are willing to directly – and positively – compare our current situation with that which prompted Japanese internment camps during WWII. And then apologize later, because they didn’t realize it would be a big deal:
The longtime mayor of Roanoke, Va., who faced criticism this week for citing Japanese internment camps in his defense of limiting Syrian refugee assistance, apologized on Friday.
He said he did not anticipate the international attention his comments would bring.
Add to this the presidential nomination process, which is bringing the firebreathers out in full force. We can perhaps forgive (or at least ignore) the overheated rhetoric of political season. After all, our political process depends on free voices, even if they’re nuts. But somehow, we’ve graduated from refusing Syrian refugees to the idea of somehow “registering” Muslims.
Neither can we blame only our Republican presidential hopefuls: Rochester’s own Louise Slaughter capitulated to the popular fever of the moment, signing on with the bill to restrict refugee intake by preposterously-high standards. Everywhere, it seems, “caution” appears to rule the day.
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There is nothing new or exclusive about Syrian refugees, compared to the millions of displaced people across the globe. There is nothing new about the State Department accepting refugees, nor even of accepting Syrian refugees. Yet, because we suddenly turned our attention to this non-story after the actual story of loss and tragedy in France, everything is different.
Can we respect Syrian refugees and our history?
However often we have trended towards nativism in the past, we don’t have to succumb to the same knee-jerk fear response now. Unfortunately, we know we can’t expect the Fox News Network to ignore this “issue,” any longer. Because Benghazi. But cooler heads can prevail.
We can live up to our self-imposed obligations and find a way to show that “peace through force” can mean the force of our will. We can look to our Lady Liberty and understand that the poem written there wasn’t a bragging point for the rest of the world: it was a challenge to our own people. We can, even through the ugliness of our political process, show the world that democracy trends toward respect for humanity.
For now, it’s enough to just lay out a few bare facts about Syrian refugees and let you make your own mind up. For that, I present the first in what I hope will be a long series of the DFE Datagram, our attempt at a story through numbers:
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