Saturday, November 21, 2015


It’s taken me far too long to find the time to write anything about this on the blog, which is embarrassing to me since it took the Republican candidates no time at all to say their piece. Within hours of the Paris attacks, Ben Carson was already calling for a halt to the admission of refugees. Ted Cruz was prepared to blame everything on the ostensibly excessive caution displayed by the U.S. military in avoiding civilian casualties in its airstrikes. Ah, but those are the nutty candidates, right (though also among the leading ones-- we'll come to the leading one in a moment, and he should prove no source of relief on this score)? Well, what do the "we-all-know-these-people-could-actually-be-president" candidates have to say for themselves? Jeb Bush thinks we should only admit Christians, and now John Kasich has backpedaled on whatever semi-reasonable things he said on this subject earlier in the fall and has joined the chorus calling for a suspension of the refugee program.

You probably don’t need Six Foot Turkey to bring you these news updates, nor to inform you that since then, the GOP contenders haven’t exactly cooled down, shaken it off, apologized, and told us that they had been speaking in a moment of high emotion and didn't really mean it. Instead, the House passed legislation last week to delay and likely prevent the small uptick in the admission of Syrian refugees that the State Department had planned to introduce this year. Let’s call it a symbolic vote-- it will likely meet its demise on the Senate Floor or in the Oval Office -- it still probably means that those of us who thought that admitting only 30,000 refugees from Syria over the next two years was woefully inadequate are not about to see our day. I should say, the thousands of Syrians who might have been brought to safety in an expanded program are not about to see their day—it is their lives, not yours or mine, that are at stake.

When the anti-refugee backlash really got underway last week, the historical comparison that seemed most ready-to-hand for many, myself included, was the MS St. Louis being turned away at the US coast, carrying its cargo of Jewish refugees back to face extermination in Europe. By the end of the week, however, Donald Trump had upped the ante even further. Not content with being a historical echo of people who denied sanctuary to 900 Jewish victims of Nazi persecution on the St. Louis, he decided he wanted to be like the person who put them there. Perhaps you saw the news on Friday that Trump was now “open” to the idea of forcing all Muslim Americans to register in a special database and submit to warrantless surveillance.

The instinctive response to many Trumpisms – I’ve experienced it, I confess-- is a kind of mirth. "What’ll he do next!" The man’s candidacy is already being treated as yesterday’s headline, and his obscenities are relegated to the same wacky news column as a Kardashian wedding. And well, plenty of journalists in the lead up to the second World War thought Hitler was a laugh riot too – the typical Bloomsbury term for him was “buffoon,” rather than "monster." Thus, I would ask that we all take a moment to notice the fact that Trump is still the leading GOP candidate for the highest political office of the world’s most powerful country. And he wants to create a digital yellow star or pink triangle to mark off Muslims from the rest of the population. Does that kill the laughter a little bit?

There is another,  less mirthful reaction that I hear a lot in the circles in which I move: it is the scoff, the sigh, the shake of the head, the “I don’t even want to hear what the Republicans are saying now.” For many on the left, I suppose, it is taken for granted that all members of the GOP would actually like to carry out an ethnic cleansing against Muslims and immigrants if they got the chance, so nothing can faze them. Let me be generous enough to the party of Lincoln for a moment though to insist that they're wrong-- we should still be surprised; we should still be appalled, and it was not always like this. George W. Bush was a torturer and a war criminal, but, thank Christ, he was no Donald Trump.

One knew that the horrifying events in Paris would provoke fear-mongering and victim-baiting responses. I guess I thought we’d see them coming mostly from Europe, however – since, you know, that’s where the attack happened and that’s where most of the refugees are. But instead, Merkel, Hollande, Jean-Claude Juncker and others have had some fairly good things to say in terms of reaffirming their commitments to displaced people in Europe. It is mostly just the far right with links to Europe’s fascist past that is engaged in vociferously scapegoating on that continent.

What does it say about our national politics, then, that for us this stuff is "mainstream" - that so many in the leading opposition party want to refuse entry to an much smaller fraction of refugees, who would  already have to face a battery of security vetting procedures that would last for two years before they even came here? We’ve become a pretty scary bunch over here.

Even if ISIS had used the migration flow to smuggle people into Europe and carry out the attack, that would be no excuse for the collective punishment of thousands of vulnerable people-- who by the way are the victims of terrorism and barrel bombs and arbitrary violence of all kinds themselves. But it so happens that we don’t even need to take the conversation to such a lofty moral plane (i.e., one that requires distinguishing between individual members of a million-strong population), since the attack appears in fact to have been carried out by EU citizens. Indeed, incomparably more citizens of European countries have gone to join terrorist networks in the Middle East than vice versa. According to the New York Review of Books this week:
In April, French Senator Jean-Pierre Suer said that 1,430 men and women from France had made their way to Iraq and Syria, up from just twenty as of 2012. About 20 percent of these people are converts.
By the Cruz-Bush-Kasich-Carson logic, Iraq and Syria should be busy trying to shutter their borders to migrants from Europe -- the true "security threat"!

Oh, but why spoil with facts a perfectly good round of “Get the Guests”—especially when Obama is the one trying to bring them to the table? The Republican candidates are already doing their part to ensure that we “Humiliate the Hosts." We are becoming a moral pariah state that refuses entry to refugees on the basis of their race and religion. I can’t think of deeper humiliation than that. And the fact that this is happening is surprising me, honest to God it is. In spite of everything, I’ve never despaired enough of this country not to be shocked and perturbed by this. This is not a joke, and it’s not just another case of those crazy Republicans being at it again. This is the United States of America, land that I love.

No comments:

Post a Comment