Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crocodile Tears

We have learned that there is something even more to be feared than Trump's hatred, and that is his sympathy. Read the speech in full if you do not yet believe me. It is a masterful work of manipulation; an artisan's performance of creeping insinuation. If you spent last Saturday night in a gay club, or had friends who did, and awoke the next morning with the thought: "that could have been me"; or, "that could have been them" -- see at first if Trump's speech doesn't actually move you in places, with its simulacrum of concern, its crocodile tears of compassion:
"Our nation stands together in solidarity with the members of Orlando’s LGBT community. They have been through something that nobody could ever experience. This is a very dark moment in America’s history. [...] It’s an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want, and express their identity."
Are these words you'd ever expect to hear from the GOP candidate for office? Could you have imagined such admirable words ten years ago? Then observe what inevitably follows:
"We have to address these issues head-on. I called for a ban after San Bernardino […] They’re pouring in and we don’t know what we’re doing. The immigration laws of the United States give the president powers to suspend entry into the country of any class of persons. Now, any class — it really is determined and to be determined by the president for the interests of the United States."
It's no small feat of falsehood and malice to turn a mass shooting at a predominantly Latino night club into a clarion call for xenophobic prejudice, but Trump manages it. Trump is an artist at driving wedges between natural allies; at pitting one out-group against another.  Read the names and see the faces of the victims -- see that not all of them are white; see that not all, nor even most of them have Anglo surnames. There may even have been Muslim victims of the attacks. We cannot tell from the photos alone, thankfully --  our pre-Trump government does not yet visibly mark off the Muslim population from the rest for the purposes of ethnic hygiene -- but there are South Asian surnames among the victims and the club management, so there is a fair chance there were.

There was, admittedly, a new note in Trump's Islamophobia yesterday -- a nod, however glancing and insincere, toward the idea that he will be the president of all Americans if elected, even of Muslim citizens. "I want every American to succeed[,] including Muslims," he says. He immediately belies the assertion, however, saving you the trouble of the scoff and choke that must follow:
"We have Muslim communities in this country that are great, and we have to form that partnership. [...] But the Muslims have to work with us. They have to work with us. They know what’s going on. They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what? They didn’t turn them in."
Apparently, Trump's "us" does not include the "Muslim communities in this country." They are a they, in Trump's worldview, who, if they know what's best for them, will perhaps learn how to play ball. But, says Trump, they haven't, so far. "They didn't turn them in." Who's they, again? "[T]he Muslims."

Trump's Islamophobia oozes past all barriers; it creeps into corners of the mind -- it thrives in the cracks and fissures between people who should be friends.

Like a drug-resistant bacterium, it evolves faster than we can develop medicines to defeat it. You will recall how all of this began after the Paris attacks with a GOP assault on the refugee program in general, and on Syrian refugees in particular. We thought we could counter by pointing to the extensive security vetting that already takes place in refugee processing; by explaining the grueling reality faced by refugee families as they wait out a screening process that drags on for years.

Then San Bernardino happened, and it had nothing at all to do with refugees, or anyone associated with the refugee program. So the bigotry had to metastasize to fit the new data. Suddenly, attacking the refugee program wasn't good enough. Now what was needed was "a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the country, until we can figure out what the hell is going on." All the arguments we'd used in defense of the refugee program were rendered moot at a stroke.

But surely the bigotry had nowhere further to evolve from there, right? The bacterium had to be backed into its last corner now. You can't get more extreme than banning an entire class of immigrants solely on the basis of their religion, can you?

Then Orlando happened -- an attack carried out by a U.S. citizen who had been born in New York state. Not an immigrant at all. Not someone who would be covered under Trump's "ban." So how would Trump spin this one, we wondered? He can't, there's simply no way.

Ah, but we were forgetting the infinite regression of xenophobia. One can always push back to a more remote horizon the precise date at which the country's primordial ethnic purity was contaminated. Even if Omar Mateen was not an immigrant; even if he was a U.S. citizen by birthright -- one can still go after his parents and ancestors. They're the ones who should never have been let into the country.

Says Trump: "The killer [...] was born in Afghan [sic.], of Afghan parents, who immigrated to the United States. [...] The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place, was because we allowed his family to come here."

Evidently, the sins of the children must be visited upon the fathers, unto the seventh generation. Trump would ban whole groups of people based on the hypothetical actions of generations who do not yet exist, or who are in their infancy. I am reminded of something that was once told to me by a Holocaust survivor I know at church, who I've mentioned before on this blog. She recalls the words of one Anti-Semite in the late '30s, who was speaking in opposition to a bill in Congress that would have brought 10,000 Jewish refugee children to safety in the United States, and thereby spared them death at Hitler's hands. He said: "The trouble with 10,000 Jewish children is that they will grow up to be 10,000 Jewish adults."

The Islamophobia can shape-shift to accommodate any new set of facts. Never mind that the shooting in Orlando fits the profile of the Charleston killings far more than that of the attacks in Paris -- though the former were inspired by a white nationalist ideology, rather than a jihadist one. Never mind what we are learning about everything that was going on psychologically with the perpetrator that had nothing to do with his nominal religious affiliation -- his history of mental instability, the suggestion of a homophobic self-loathing on his part in regard to his own confused sexuality, a history of domestic violence, the whole sad and bleak and unsurprising story of how a human person comes to violate their own humanity. Never mind, never mind. The Islamophobia can bore it's way into any material, like the parasite it is.


Beware too, then, of some of what you will be hearing on the Left in the weeks ahead, especially in regard to gun control -- the Islamophobia can burrow in there as well, though more surreptitiously. I am, to be sure, in favor of limiting access to assault weapons and military-grade technology. I will never for the life of me understand why it should be considered more controversial to ban assault rifles than it is to ban chemical weapons and depleted uranium. Any regulations that are passed along these lines, however, have to be applied fairly to all citizens. The calls we will start to hear from the Left to deny weapons to people who have been placed onto various "watch lists" have to be regarded with the utmost skepticism. To repeat a good point that has been made by Kevin Drum, Ross Douthat and others, such lists are maintained by fiat of the executive branch, not by any fair trial or due process. To strip people of legal rights that are enjoyed by others purely because of their appearance on such a list is therefore a profoundly dangerous precedent -- and one not so different in principle from the kinds of powers Trump would arrogate to himself -- or that the executive branch does already arrogate to itself abroad, in its drone program and elsewhere.

Amidst the many other grotesque ironies we could point to about all this, at last, let us end with a reminder of something that many of us may already have forgotten, though it is one of the most obvious things in the world: the Syrian refugees whom Trump repeatedly targets in his speech ("We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States," he says. "We don’t know who they are, they have no documentation and we don’t know what they’re planning[,]" and more -- all of it as deliberately misleading and blatantly false as this) include large numbers of people who became refugees precisely because they are in flight from the Islamic State. Some of them have even been persecuted by ISIS on the basis of their sexuality.

Trump wants to drive a wedge between LGBTQ folks and refugees, between the gay community and immigrants. What, then, are we to make of the story of Lawrence Powell, a gay man in Manitou Springs, Colorado, who escaped persecution in Syria on the basis of his orientation and has spoken up since then for the thousands of others globally who are in his position? What are we to make of the 50,000 or more LGBT refugees fleeing ISIS attacks who are currently stranded in Turkey, according to the best estimates of the Heartland Alliance.

Back in the 1930s and early '40s, Trump's precursors and kindred spirits -- the isolationist and populist demagogues of that time -- the first set of people to use Trump's new favorite slogan, "America First" -- led a very similar campaign against Jewish refugees from Europe. It was their bigotry that led to the return of 900 refugees aboard the M.S. St. Louis to Europe, where many if not most perished in the Holocaust. One of the arguments they used to justify such actions was that the refugees might turn out to be Nazi agents if they were allowed into the country (possibly by being coerced into the role through threats against their family members back home).

Now we have Trump blustering on with exactly the same sort of perversity -- using the specter of ISIS spies as a reason to condemn the very people who are trapped and persecuted by ISIS to destruction.

This is no hypothetical nightmare. As a direct result of Europe's restrictive border policies at the moment-- encapsulated in their devil's bargain with Turkey -- Human Rights Watch reports that as many as 165,000 Syrian refugees in flight from ISIS are trapped at Turkey's border as we speak. Denied safe entry into Turkey, they may be killed, bombed, or tortured. As HRW writes, "While the world speaks about fighting ISIS, their silence is deafening when it comes to the basic rights of those fleeing ISIS."

Turkey is doing more than just barring the gates, however -- their border police have actually gunned down asylum seekers in cold blood who tried to cross the border to seek asylum. As one chilling account collected by HRW reads, that could almost have been excerpted from an article about the horrendous events in Orlando (this happened as recently as last April):
On Sunday, April 17, a smuggler took us at about 5 p.m. towards the border wall. Suddenly, when we were about 500 meters from the wall, we heard automatic weapons fired from the direction of the wall and bullets landed all around us. The women started screaming and the children started crying, but the shooting continued. We all threw ourselves onto the ground, covering the children. I was lying close to my sister and my cousin, and the bullets hit them while we were lying down. They stopped screaming and shouting. I knew right away they had been killed.[…]
The shooting lasted a long time. I can’t remember for how long, but I think it was at an hour. We were all petrified. Then the shooting just stopped. We waited for a short while. […]
As we approached the place where the bodies were, the Turkish police [sic] started shooting again. The villagers called the police and asked them to stop shooting while we got the bodies. We walked back towards the bodies and this time they didn’t shoot. One of the police spoke to us from the wall using a loudspeaker. He said we had 15 minutes to move the bodies, after which they would start to shoot again. We picked up the bodies and carried them away from the wall as fast as we could."
You will hear no words of sympathy for the victims of this shooting from Donald Trump; nor from the leaders of the EU, who are still officially maintaining the pretense that Turkey is a "safe country" for refugees, in order to justify closing their own external borders.

That is how the world treats the victims of ISIS, when they are not fortunate enough to reside in a Western country.


So don't be fooled, and don't forget. Don't let the bigotry creep into your mind too. Don't dishonor the dead -- so many of whom themselves come from immigrant families -- by making their martyrdom an excuse for xenophobia.

Remember that Trump's "solidarity" is only the other face of his hatred and contempt for the victims of ISIS and of homophobic persecution when they happen to live in other parts of the world. Heed the words of Siegfried Sassoon:
Have you forgotten yet?...  For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
Have you forgotten yet?...  Look down, and swear by the slain […] that you'll never forget.  

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