With the announcement of the new President of the United States still ringing in America’s ears, some are left speechless. Others are left scrambling through the soundbites of the campaign’s promises, trying to see what sort of laws he will implement that could hurt their families, their citizenship, and their sense of inclusion. And even 6,000 miles away, a broken nation of people are seeing the lock bolted on the door of the country they hoped they could have called home. The escapees of the Syrian civil war, 80% of whom are women and children, find themselves now in the crux of a psychological war in the American mind, caught between those who sympathize with their genocide and those who simply don’t want to be involved.
“Because they’re coming into the country, they’re being put where nobody even knows where they are,” guesses Trump, president elect of our country. “We don’t know where they are, where they’re coming, you’ve them all over the place. And for all we know, this could be the great Trojan Horse.”
This depiction of these fleeing families, much like the story of the Trojan Horse, is a tired myth with no roots in reality or lived experiences. The reality is that out of 800,000 of the refugees accepted into American borders since the rise of terrorism in 2001, not a single one has been convicted of terrorism. Yet every last of these new Americans continue to be feared and attacked on the grounds of their otherness.
As a result of this stance of inaction, Americans have watched and balked at President Bashar al-Assad’s systematic massacre of his people. The degree of this engagement is limited to exclamations of lukewarm sympathy on social media, feelings of sadness at the circulation of images of bloody and drowned children, but never a stirring of emotion to the point of action. Instead, the reflexive instinct of our country has been to point right back at the Middle East, insisting that Syrian neighbors aren’t doing their part to shoulder the immigrants. But two of Syria’s neighbors, Jordan and Lebanon, host more refugees per capita than any European country. On the Western side, Canada has a tenth of America’s population, yet has resettled double the amount the States have. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, has even volunteered to accept 250,000 refugees from the States, Syrians and undocumented Mexicans included, if the ban on immigration holds water this coming January.
The fear that drives Americans to push refugees out of our borders is not new-founded: In 1939, the U.S. turned away 900 of them, fearing that they may be conspirators or puppets from their oppressors. These individuals were Jews, and after they were forced back into Germany, a quarter of them were killed in the Holocaust. This is not to say that these two tragedies are comparable in scale or in atrocity. The point is not to play Oppression Olympics, but to say that the opportunity for the United States to intervene in the face of human rights abuses was present in both cases, and in both cases, the fear of the foreigner caused the country to turn its cheek.
This issue has often been split down partisan lines. Yet traditionalists and constitutionalists above anyone shouldn’t find it difficult to boast in the land of the free, the resurgence of the legacy of Ellis Island. But it seems that for many Americans, the lines of distinction seem to blur the farther the victims seem to be from the West. Suddenly, it’s not a human problem, it’s an Arab problem. This issue has been exacerbated every time media fails to delineate between ISIS and Muslim, between Islamic radicals and the peaceful followers of Islam. Thanks to this discourse, an entire religious group has been painted with a broad stroke of suspicion and mistrust, one that blankets the compassion for a nation of dying women and children that just want to live somewhere safe.
Pulling the welcome mat from our doors may ironically be the strike of the match that destabilizes our national security. Our compassion and accordance with global community in resettling refugees not only strengthens alliances, but also acts against the image of Islamophobia that jihadists use to justify their hatred against the States.
Regardless, such fear of ramification should not even be the basis for deciding to open our doors. Compassion, decency, and the practice of liberty and justice for all should be more than enough. Our country is only enriched with every new spice, every new addition to the melting pot of its demography. To go safe would be to be sorry.