Our country of immigrants, a country which has historically been an asylum for refugees, is falling back into an old pattern. In the 1920s America was seized by xenophobia. The Emergency Quota Act, passed in 1921, restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. For the geographically-challenged, that includes Italy, Greece, and Hungary among others. It was the first “Red Scare” when people were fearful that communism and anarchy were going to take over. This attitude lingered until even the late 1930s when people were against European Jews coming into our country. We all know how that panned out.
Now we have many of the same things happening again. People are fleeing terrorism, war, persecution. Many are women and children. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to keep out Syrians. There is even talk about shutting down the government over this issue. It’s become a political football and popularity contest among presidential candidates. Donald Trump wants to make Syrian refugees carry special identification. Yes, the same policy Hitler and the Nazis used is being touted by a potential United States president. The “special identification” for Syrian refugees is just another form of the Star of David badge used to segregate then exterminate men, women, and children of the Jewish faith. Others wore badges that declared their “otherness” too- gays, the Romany, the mentally handicapped among them.
The events today are a prime example of “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Not only was xenophobia and separatism part of what made World War II so horrible, so destructive, each time it reared its ugly head, injustice and tragedy reigned. Think of how many lives were ruined in the 1950s under McCarthyism. Black lists were made. Congress was involved in hearings that were basically kangaroo courts, ferreting out “pinkos” and “commies.” It was a shameful and dark time despite many peoples’ wistful but flawed memories of the decade. And 60 years later, it continues.
It’s not the “damn liberals” or the “stupid conservatives” that are taking our country down. It’s regular people of all stripes that haven’t learned a thing from our past. They see heinous acts of violence from terrorists, and they succumb to fear, exactly what the terrorists want. Exactly. Closing our borders to those seeking refuge is what ISIS wants. They will use our denial of refugees against us, telling their people that no one cares about them, that their religion, their faith is what America is against. It won’t matter to these people that there are some here that are scared of the violence coming to our shores, hiding it under bravado and propaganda about the Islamic menace. The refugees will only see rejection, and in that way the extremists will win their hearts. And the violence is already here anyway. The Boston Marathon bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 all resonate with violence against our government, way of life, and our citizens.
When you read Facebook memes and posts, including mine, remember the entire history of the United States, our traditions of immigration and asylum, and our tragic memories of the awful results of xenophobia. See that the politicians who use fear are no better than the terrorists themselves- they are all people who will use death and destruction to gain power whether or not they caused it directly or indirectly. Take care when you hear media outlets, news agencies, radio hosts, television personalities, church leaders telling us that we should not help these particular “others,” that we need to take care ourselves first, that they aren’t “Christian” or that they are infiltrating and hellbent on changing and killing us. That’s code for “fear strangers” and by that, all the terrorists accomplish their goals.
We all were the “others” at some point in our family trees. The Pilgrims fled persecution in England. The Huguenots ran from France. Jews, Italians, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Cuban, Nicaraguan- the list of asylum seekers goes around the world. And they all came to America. It is who we are and who we were. Taking precautions and carefully examining refugees is a necessary and prudent thing in today’s world. But flat out refusal is a mistake on our part, and playing right into the hands of our enemies and detractors.