My husband and I this week attended a meeting sponsored by World Relief: Refugee and Immigration Advocacy Night. The organization—which partners with local churches to offer refugee and immigration services, disaster response, health and child development, economic development, and peace building—hoped for about forty attendees. During the meeting, organizers reported that more than a thousand of us had gathered, looking for ways to resist Donald Trump’s Executive Order that effectively bans Muslims from entering the United States.
Although The White House and key Republicans such as Paul Ryan have insisted that the order, issued January 27, isn’t actually a Muslim Ban, let’s be real: It is exactly that. This is Trump’s effort to keep one of his campaign promises: that he would enact a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
The order itself is at once lengthy and vague, and it has caused much confusion, deep outrage, and numerous legal challenges. Furthermore, the order is of questionable integrity as it fails to include any of the countries from which radicalized Muslims have actually killed Americans in the United States since the September 11 attacks. Nor does it include countries in which Trump does business, such as Saudi Arabia (from which the September 11 terrorists did hail).
This hypocrisy aside, the fact of the matter is that Trump and the Trumpsters are striving to block both immigrants and refugees of one particular religion. Trump and the Trumpsters are effectively banning members of a certain religion—Islam—from entering the United States, even those who are refugees seeking to flee war-torn countries and to avoid political or religious persecution. As far as Trump is concerned, anyone who practices Islam is a radical jihadist intent on killing Americans.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, The CATO Institute studied the issue and found that “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year” (emphasis in original). The report goes on to note that “Not a single refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States.”
Trump and the Trumpsters love to spotlight immigrants and refugees as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers. But the fact of the matter is that these people—people who are our new neighbors in communities across the country—are no more apt to commit crimes than anyone else here in America.
And yet Trump and the Trumpsters want to ban from entering America people from majority-Muslim countries. Indeed, the order promises “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” In essence, this gives priority status to Christians, who, in the seven named countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen), are of a religious minority.
Although a whole lot of people in the United States like to believe that America is a Christian country, this great land was founded on religious freedom—the freedom to worship (or not) whichever religion or faith one wanted to (or not).
And, yet, our leaders have consistently chosen to ignore this little fact, having throughout history played favorites, with those of Christian faith often getting preferential treatment. Indeed, when it comes to how we treat immigrants and refugees and people of different religions (i.e., people who are not of the Christian faith), the United States has rather a bad habit of overreacting out of fear.
During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt suspended naturalization proceedings for Italian, German, and Japanese immigrants. Although many of us know that Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps, so were Italian Americans and German Americans as well as Bulgarians, Czechs, Hungarians, and Romanians who were living in the United States. Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527 authorized the U.S. Government to “detain allegedly potentially dangerous enemy aliens” living in the United States. More than 31,000 people spent much of the War in internment camps.
At the same time, America had largely turned its back on Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. Jews seeking to flee Nazi-controlled Europe all too often found that America had closed its doors to them. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports that about “85,000 Jewish refugees (out of 120,000 Jewish emigrants) reached the United States between March 1938 and September 1939, but this level of immigration was far below the number seeking refuge. In late 1938, 125,000 applicants lined up outside U.S. consulates hoping to obtain 27,000 visas under the existing immigration quota. By June 1939, the number of applicants had increased to over 300,000. Most visa applicants were unsuccessful.”
Despite little but unsubstantiated anecdotal “evidence,” few Jews, Japanese, Germans, Italians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Hungarians, or Romanians—or immigrants or refugees from any country—were proven to be spies or terrorists. Yet, fueled by fear and anti-Semitism, pollsters in 1939 found that “53 percent of those interviewed agreed with the statement ‘Jews are different and should be restricted.'” As such, “[b]etween 1933 and 1945 the United States took in only 132,000 Jewish refugees, only ten percent of the quota allowed by law.” Six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. America could have saved many of them, but we chose not to, instead letting fear and hate dictate policies that would leave millions of people dead, victims of the Nazis. As a country, we succumbed to fear and chose to be on the wrong side of history, no thanks to the fact that we listened to the voice of fear.
Demagogues and radio personalities like Charles Coughlin used fear-mongering to influence U.S. immigration policy in the 1930s and ’40s. Much the same could be said today of loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos. These hate-filled fear-mongers have the ear of Donald Trump. They have the ear of the man who has become the President of the United States. Indeed, many people believe these men are pulling Trump’s strings, making him their puppet, their mouthpiece, their voice of hate and fear and intolerance.
As such, Trump and the Trumpsters have, with the January 27 Executive Order, institutionalized racism and bigotry. They have found a way to make it U.S. policy that we shun the persecuted, that we ostracize those who would seek refuge on our shores, that we otherize those who are outside their own perceptions of mainstream religion. In the name of “security,” despite all evidence to the contrary and despite the lessons that history provides, Trump and the Trumpsters have maligned an entire religion, turning into monsters the very people who would look to America as The Mother of Exiles.
This is unconscionable.
Indeed, many would argue that Trump’s ban has done little to improve security while it has done much to boost ISIS and Al-Qaeda, generating new momentum for the jihadist movement. Newsweek reports that “Data from jihadi discussion forums indicate that supporters of ISIS viewed the decision [to enact the ban] favorably.” Furthermore, experts argue that Trump’s Muslim ban “continues to provoke anger and criticism in the Middle East. It could also hamper his administration’s ability to prosecute the war on ISIS.”
While the ban is litigated in the courts—and while Trump goes on Twitter rages against judges who have blocked the ban—everyday Americans will continue to argue about whether the ban is necessary or just. Many will protest—for one side or the other: Not quite half of those polled purport to support Trump’s Muslim ban. The Guardian reports that “[o]f the 1,201 adults who responded, 48% said they agreed with the executive order and 41% said they disagreed” with the ban. As might be expected, respondents varied widely across partisan divides. For example, when asked whether “it is fine to subject people from Muslim countries to extra scrutiny if it prevents attacks or singling out a group based on religion violates American principles,” 51 percent of Democrats said they strongly agreed that doing so violates American principles. Only 7 percent of Republicans felt the same.
So, despite the fact that refugees from foreign lands—majority-Muslim or otherwise—are no more likely to commit an act of terrorism in the United States than natural-born citizens, most Republicans believe it’s fine to single them out for extra scrutiny.
This is fear at work. It’s not logical. It’s not rational. It’s not supported by facts or evidence. Ironically, despite the fact that most Americans seem perfectly willing to subject Muslim refugees to extra scrutiny for apparently no logical reason, they also seem to recognize that doing so will do little good: “A Reuters/Ipsos poll, carried out between January 30 and 31, found just 31 per cent of people felt ‘more safe’ due to the ban. Twenty-six per cent said the ban made them feel ‘less safe,’ while 33 per cent said it would make no difference.”
So, two thirds of Americans believe that Trump’s Muslim ban will make no difference in our national security or that it will make us less safe. But, they say, let’s do it anyway.
Because that makes sense.
Does it make sense to further alienate those whom we believe already hate us?
Does it make sense to ostracize those against whom we have no evidence that they wish to harm us?
Does it make sense to otherize an entire religion? To apply the one-bad-apple rule to an entire faith?
If so, let’s take a look in particular at this last question. Should we apply the one-bad-apple rule to an entire faith? What if that faith is Christianity? What if we were to apply to Christian refugees the same scrutiny as we do to Muslims because Christians have, in fact, committed acts of terrorism in the United States—professed Christians like Timothy McVeigh, Shelly Shannon, Jim David Adkisson, Paul Jennings Hill, and James Charles Copp. Did the criminal acts of these people doom all of Christianity to endless negative scrutiny and political posturing? Of course not.
Indeed, here in America, radical white men are more likely to commit acts of terrorism than refugee Muslims. You’re more likely to be shot by an armed toddler or to be struck by lightning than you are to be killed by a Muslim-refugee-turned-terrorist. Death by refugee-turned-terrorist should be among the least of your worries, as this handy chart from Huffington Post notes:
Home-grown terrorism, committed by Muslims, Christians, or other radicals, is a much, much, much bigger problem than terrorism committed by refugees of any religion or faith. And yet Trump and the Trumpsters have willingly institutionalized hate and bigotry, marginalizing one religion, demonizing a specific group of people, and prompting protest and outrage around the world—even though most people agree that banning Muslims from America will actually do little good when it comes to reducing terrorism.
Seems like we’re going about this in entirely the wrong way—and most of us know it. Instead of marginalizing our Muslim neighbors, we should be engaging with them. Instead of demonizing Islam, we should seek to understand it. Instead of closing our doors, we should open them to those who seek refuge on our shores.
Indeed, as Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, asks: “Isn’t it better to reach out and love these folks than to give them the cold shoulder? Which approach do you think might cause a Muslim refugee to be more sympathetic to Islamic terrorism?”
Trump and the Trumpsters seem incapable of love. They prefer the cold shoulder. They prefer an approach that not only lacks sympathy but eschews it entirely, instead opting for an approach based on assumptions and hate and intolerance and fear.
And, let’s face it, this isn’t about a fear of refugees in general; it’s about a fear of Muslim refugees. Trump and the Trumpsters like to imply that America is being overrun with Muslim refugees and immigrants. They like to imply that Christian refugees are being overlooked. Indeed, Trump and the Trumpsters, as noted above, have made a point of welcoming Christian refugees, even though, for example, fewer Christians from Syria than Muslims have sought resettlement in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, 46 percent of refugees who have entered the United States since 2002 have been Christian while 32 percent have been Muslim. The number of Muslim refugees allowed into the United States has grown over the years, though, and in 2016, Muslims accounted for about 46 percent of admissions while Christians accounted for about 44 percent—almost even numbers.
Trump and the Trumpsters are right in acknowledging that Christian minorities are being threatened in some parts of the world. But they must also acknowledge that those of other faiths also are being threatened. Many of those people are seeking refuge in the United States. While Trump and the Trumpsters seem willing to welcome with open arms Christians seeking refuge, they are closing the doors on people of other faiths. That is the definition of bigotry.
And it is simply not right.
As Americans, we sat on the wrong side of history, watching as Nazi Germany decimated the Jews during World War II. Will we watch again as Muslims are decimated during the War on Terror? Will we close our doors to those who would seek refuge from political and religious persecution? Will we become the persecutors? Will we repeat the mistakes of the last century?
Or will we fight against this racist, bigoted, xenophobic ban? Will we protest the hypocrisy? Will we fight for the rights of the persecuted? Will we welcome refugees as our neighbors?
I recently learned that the little suburb where I live has become home to more than four hundred refugees since 2007. I had no idea. Why? Because they weren’t making headlines by committing acts of terrorism. Because they weren’t causing riots in the streets. Because they weren’t bombing buildings. Because they weren’t beheading Christians. Because they weren’t kidnapping women and children. They were just living their lives, going about their business. They were simply living peacefully—going to work, going to school, going to the grocery store—just like the rest of my neighbors.
I am not afraid of these new neighbors. I wasn’t before I knew they had made my town their town, and I’m not afraid now that I know they’re here. I welcome them, and I admire their courage—many of them have traveled halfway around the world to a land they knew little about with a language they understand little of with customs and traditions they might well not understand. And, sadly, to a place where they, today in the age of Trumpland, know that many people look upon them with hate or anger or fear or intolerance, people who likely haven’t taken even a moment to try to understand what they’ve been through or what they’re going through.
I choose to welcome these new neighbors. I choose to embrace the diversity that will enliven my community. I choose to push aside the hate and anger and fear and intolerance that characterizes Trumpland. I choose to welcome these new neighbors to our sea-washed shores and air-bridged harbors. I choose to lift a lamp to them, to fulfill the promise of America as The Mother of Exiles.
Will you join me?