Editorial: Mother of Exiles

The poem on one of the plaques attached to the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus,” includes a phrase often used as a summation of America’s immigrant heritage and compassion based values; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”

Those lines have been invoked frequently in the recent debate as to whether or not the U.S. should grant fleeing Syrian refugees shelter — most recently by Congressman Tim Ryan in his response to the situation.

Earlier in the poem, however, the Statue is said to bear the name “Mother of Exiles.” As the poem continues, she isn’t presented as a safety net, but instead as aggressive and full of conviction. She is admonishing the rest of the world — according to the poem — not asking for their unwanted, but demanding them.

In a move away from the statement of values adorning one of our most powerful national symbols, 30 state governors have asked for a halt on the U.S.’s decision to accept refugees from Syria. Of course, 29 of the 30 governors are Republicans.

One of those 29 is Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich, who is currently in the running to win the conservative endorsement for the 2016 presidential election.

Kasich doesn’t — nor do any of the other governors — actually have the authority to stall the refugee acceptance process, let alone bar refugees from the state. These governors either know this, or they’re incompetent.

Assuming it’s the former — which it almost certainly is — then it’s clear Kasich and the other Republicans are playing to the paranoid cowering of conservative constituents around the country fearful that some Syrian refugees will turn out to be ISIS in disguise, bent on shooting up civilians.

Apparently restricting Syrian refugees will certainly curb terrorism and increase public safety. Too bad that plan couldn’t work with other proven public health risks, like mass proliferation of guns.

Oh wait.

Regardless of the hypocrisy and double standards of the far right and the cowardly reactionaries, there is a deeper issue at play in the refugee debate.

Rejecting Syrian refugees is playing right into the hands of ISIS.

In a great write up by Vox writer Zack Beauchamp, he explains,

“Core to ISIS’s narrative is that the struggle between the West and Islam is fundamental: that the United States and Europe are, and forever will be, at war with Islam and thus all Muslims. This argument has been brilliantly successful, helping persuade thousands of disaffected European youth to leave their homes to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

When refugees are stuck in refugee camps, get turned back from Europe or suffer discrimination upon arrival, it helps to make ISIS’s point for them. It gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that Europe really is hostile to Muslims.”

The response by some Americans to treat the Syrian refugees with suspicion and contempt is simply supporting the narrative ISIS is selling the downtrodden and disaffected in the Middle East.

When the powers of the world which hold themselves up as bastions of freedom, compassion and morality falter, it strengthens the arguments of those who would paint the West as rich, racist and depraved.

According to research done by The Economist, of the nearly 750,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since 9/11, none have been convicted of domestic terror charges. Two were arrested due to activities that linked them to Al-Qaeda prior to their arrival in the U.S., but there was no evidence suggesting they were involved in any sort of activity while living stateside.

A common argument against accepting refugees is discrimination hidden under the blanket of practicality.

“Where will we get the money to feed and house these people? How can we justify accepting these people when we have so many homeless of our own?”

The assumptions made in those kinds of arguments are telling. There’s an underlying assumption that Syrians will inherently be without skills and without any desire to provide for themselves.

The numbers tell a different story.

According to a 2007 Pew report, Muslim immigrants are just as likely to be middle class, 71 percent agree with the old American “bootstrap” mentality that hard work will ultimately result in success, and they’re 13 percent more likely to run their own businesses than the general population.

Capitalistic business owners who believe in hard work and personal responsibility with a tendency to put great value on their faith. That’s sure reminiscent of another large portion of the American public, isn’t it?

It’s important for those fearful of the refugees to not only put themselves in their shoes and develop some degree of empathy for their plight, but also to look at the data and make informed, rational, adult decisions based on what is known.

After Paris, things seem scary, but Americans would do well to remember the national anthem. “Land of the free and the home of the brave.” The refugees want to be free. It’s time for America to be brave.

The editorial board that writes editorials consists of the editor-in-chief, the managing editor, the copy editor, and the news editor. These opinion pieces are written separately from news articles. They draw on the opinions of the entire writing staff and do not reflect the opinions of any individual staff member. The Jambar’s business manager and non-writing staff do not contribute to editorials, and the advisor does not have final approval.

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