Idk about you, but recently my Facebook news feed has been consumed with the question of Syrian refugees and the connection with the recent Paris terror attacks.
Some of them come down on the side of empathy with articles such as this and this:
if only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge being turned away by the heartless
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) November 16, 2015
Others come down on the side of keeping people out, like this wonderful tweet:
I’ve got a bowl of 10000 m&ms, 10 are poisoned. How many of you bleeding heart liberals are gonna grab a handful? #SyrianRefugees
— CowboysDerek (@d_juhl) November 17, 2015
The news that many of the nation’s governors are going to deny Syrian refugees in their states and that thankfully Utah (fingers crossed) has not jumped on the bandwagon, has brought up the bigger question, what should we do about these refugees? And is it really smart to risk American lives in order help those not from our nation?
Unfortunately, there really is nuance to this situation. But maybe some sort of historical context will help.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes flew into American airspace and unleashed a devastating attack on sleeping US forces in the Hawaiian Islands. Following the day that “will live in infamy,” the US declared war on Japan and entered into World War II. Heeding calls by many of his national security advisors, FDR issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This resulted in the forced internment of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, many of them American citizens.
Though advanced as a tool of military necessity due to the state of war existing between Japan and the US, the internment played off long standing distrust and antagonism existing towards Asian Americans, especially along the West Coast. Beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, this systematic distrust would culminate in moving an entire race of people from the West Coast of the United States.
The decision was then upheld in 1944 by the Korematsu v. United States Supreme Court decision, which was still considered precedent until 2011. This decision hinged on Solicitor General Fahy failing to produce a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence that Japanese Americans were not engaged in espionage at any point during the war.
As many of their fellow citizens languished in the internment camps, a few brave Japanese Americans served with honor on the battlefields in Europe, eventually becoming the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare.
So why is all of that information important? Well first of all, any journey to understand a situation begins with personal context. In this case, the ethnicity that I belong to has faced many of the same arguments presented for keeping out Syrian refugees. The internment camps were justified because they would keep America safe and prevent the Japanese from assisting their ancestral home in the war against their adopted home. It was viewed as better to keep an entire race of people imprisoned, against their will and in violation of their civil and human rights, because they happened to look like the enemy of the time. It is important to note that some German and Italian Americans were also interned, but never to the same extent as their Asian counterparts.
While this specific case applies to me, and millions of other Japanese Americans, each of us fits into a class that were, at one time or another, marginalized merely for being different than most of society. Mormons, driven out of Missouri (the Extermination Order was not officially rescinded until 1976, btdubbs). Irish, need not apply here. Christians, chased down by Nero. Women, couldn’t vote until 1920. Millenials, worried more about that really meta ugly sweater you’re going to buy (trust me, it’s this one) than getting a real job.
So getting back to the question at hand, would I grab a handful of M&M’s if 10/10000 were poisoned? If by grab a handful, we mean save their lives and help to understand all the good that can come from America, then I am willing to take that risk. Because at one time or another, every person in this country came from a group of people that wasn’t accepted or trusted here. So all of that speculation on how you would have treated those Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany, or those protesting to prove that they were in people during the Civil Rights Era, or those 80’s teens wondering if leotards and leg warmers really qualified as fashion, your opportunity to stand up and be counted is now.
And of course, we prove these radical Islamic groups right when we show that we, in fact, do not like Muslims. It’s like that time when Thomas the Tank Engine was like “I think I can” and he totally did it, except with peoples’ lives and denying them safety and basic human rights. I mean France, the country where these attacks took place, made a point to emphasize that they are still taking 30,000 refuges. If America really is the idea so many of us hold dear, is exclusion and distrust really the face we want it to wear? Did we not fight two World Wars to defend democracy wherever it existed?
Because really, we should update that inscription on the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France no less to celebrate the success of the American experiment:
Give me your tired, your poor (but not too many of them!),
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free(ish),
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore (but really only if they’re educated),
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door (eh, build the wall).
What better way to remove the main source of manpower for these terrorist groups than to allow them into the US, introduce them to video games and fast food, and turn them into the selfie sharing, Bieber-obsessed tweeners that are the future of America? The best thing we can do for our safety is to offer these refugees hope and support. Eliminate the darkness that comes with war and tyranny. Show them that we really do care for the human condition and everywhere life lives. While we may differ politically, religiously, or even culturally, there is one common element which we can all unite over: hope–for ourselves and the world.
America really is an idea, and just like any other idea, it will die if not understood properly. And we cannot allow a few bad apples in Paris to do more damage than a Revolutionary War, a Civil War, and two World Wars ever did to the fabric of this great nation. Our nation started with the idea that all of mankind was entitled to three basic rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While we may bicker and fight about how to achieve these three great ends, there is no disagreement that these basic and fundamental rights stand at the foundation of our grand experiment. A few bad apples may ruin a bunch, but people are not apples, and there are still a lot of good ones left.
And really, is there anything more ‘murica than this?