On June 4, 1939, the German ocean liner MS St. Louis carrying 937 Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis on the eve of WWII, was turned away from the U.S. after having already been denied asylum in Cuba (this despite having previously purchased legal Visas) and later being denied asylum also in Canada. Eventually these refugees were settled in other countries in Europe, and while nobody can know for certain, historians estimate that it is likely at least ¼ of these refugees subsequently died in concentration camps. Today we are ashamed of the actions of President Roosevelt (Franklin D.) and others. Why were these refugees turned away? In light of the ongoing Depression, the US Congress had instilled very severe immigration quotas from each country, and German Jews were not considered an endangered minority but instead just regular Germans competing for the same limited number of Visas. The US felt that it had enough problems of its own that it wasn’t necessary to go looking for other peoples’ problems to solve. Sound familiar?
This is the post I have been hoping for five days not to need to write. It is slightly longer than my usual, and for that I apologize. It will likely offend some, and for that I also apologize.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I cannot conceive of any who are more tired, poor, wretched and homeless than refugees of the Syrian civil war. And yet … where are those welcoming arms? Have our hearts shriveled as surely as the heart of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas?
On Friday, November 13, 2015, murderers affiliated with the terrorist group Isis carried out multiple and simultaneous attacks on civilians in Paris, France. In the five days since, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens have become just as vicious as those who perpetrated the murders in France. They are suffering from a disease called “Islamophobia” which is the modern-day equivalent of “anti-Semitism”. The symptoms of this disease are the utterances of such inane comments as “all Muslims are evil”, “this is a Christian nation”, “we will close our borders to refugees”, and other vitriolic speech. Let’ me take a minute to respond briefly to these comments.
- All Muslims are not evil. There is some good and some evil in everyone, and there are mostly good people and some bad people in every culture, every society, every religion. Muslims are basically every bit as good as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus and it is simply wrong to apply a label to them all based on the actions of a small few.
- This is not a “Christian nation”, whatever that means. This is a secular nation that was initially settled by people who were seeking freedom of religion without retribution.
- If we close our borders to the Syrian refugees, then we are signing their death warrant. The argument is that terrorists could sneak in disguised as refugees, so we should “throw out the baby with the bathwater” and keep every person of Middle Eastern citizenship out of the U.S. To which my response is a not-very-eloquent “Bullshit”.
Bear with me for a moment while I share a personal story. Two years ago, a family moved in next door, aided by the Catholic Refugee Services. They were Iraqi nationals who had fled Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and now were refugees from the violence in Syria. They spoke, at that time, about seven words of English, yet in the weeks and months that followed, we found innovative ways to communicate. Fast forward to this week. Last night, I baked cookies to send to them with my granddaughter when she went to their home to play with their three young sons. Tonight, they sent dinner over to us so that I would not have to cook. A few weeks ago when my car took her last, dying breath, my wonderful neighbors told me that I may use their car “any day, any time” to go wherever I need to go. Are these the people that U.S. citizens are afraid of? They tell of the months before they were able to leave Syria, how the parents took turns sleeping at night so that one was always looking out the window, watching for soldiers, listening for gunfire. Ultimately they had to flee their home with only the clothes on their back and no shoes on their feet. They left behind their family pictures, their money, the children’s toys … everything. I do not fear these people … I love these people, I admire their courage and to me, they are heroes. Earlier today, a “gentleman” (I use the term loosely) told me that my good neighbors are “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. I cannot remember a time that I have been more offended.
This fire is being fueled, not by the current administration in Washington, not by security experts, but by those on the far right of the political spectrum who are hoping to follow him in a little over a year. This post is not about politics per se, but as I look at the rhetoric and the people’s response, I realize that those who would like to see us close not only our borders but also our hearts are responding to the ravings of men who are attempting to whip the nation into a frenzy to further their own political goals. We need to step back, think calmly and logically, and realize that in ranting and screaming to keep those seeking refuge out of our nation, we are going against the principles upon which the nation was founded. We cannot change our values, we cannot change who we are, and we cannot live in fear, for if we do, terrorism is not merely winning the war, it has already won.