Fear, laced with paranoia, is driving the American response against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
President Barack 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 [the Islamic State] because some politician doesn’t like their religion.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), a Jewish candidate for president, 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 want to absolutely deny any Syrian refugee, and apparently anyone who is a Muslim, a place in the United States; 11 percent want to 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.
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’ 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.
In the history of the United States, just the members of the white-hooded Protestant-professing fire-and-brimstone Ku Klux 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 United States 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 the Islamic State is for the United States 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 country should not admit 10,000 European Jewish children. Later that year, the United States 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.
Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, professor emeritus of mass communications and author of 20 books. His latest is “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.”