Image credit here
Yesterday, my governor came out with a statement that he would welcome the Syrian refugees—that our state is committed to welcoming “all people with tolerance and mutual respect.” To hear this made me so proud have a leader stand up for the rights of others, to take a stand against cruelty and malice and—evil. A light in the vast climate of fear.
Then I listened, from the confines of my comfortable (but slightly stinky) car, to the opposing viewpoints of people calling into our radio stations, saying the Governor went out on a limb, wasn’t thinking, who was going to pay for all these refugees, we have a homeless problem, we need to take care of our own, first.
It’s easy for us to say, from our position in the horn of plenty, to ‘take care of our own, first,’ but how can we not remember who we are as a people, as a nation in our world? Do we forget that the reason any of us are here in our country is because our “people” traveled here, in some instances under similar persecution, themselves? (And by the way, our nation’s immigrants and first settlers have a terrible history of persecution, the native peoples of our country can attest to that, which is another serious discussion altogether.)
I see how it’s easier to avoid the atrocities from the other side of the world. To hide our faces from the images of that little boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey. To think it’s happening to someone else, not me, not my sister, not my brother.
It’s hard to think of these strangers as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, uncles, aunties cousins.
But to all of the people who cry out at the cruelty of ISIS and armed conflict in our world, who cry out at injustice of genocide and war crimes against humanity, and to those 24 governors who hide behind a mantra of: “it’s a national security issue, they can’t come here!”:
I will respond first of all with logic. In 1980, Congress passed the Refugee Act, which gives our President the authority to allow refugees into our country who are fleeing persecution. Therefore, the governors (especially the conservative ones who are pandering to their GOP electorate) can cry “national security” all they want, but what they’re really doing is putting their self-interests, not our humanity, first. They are putting their political agendas and manipulating the public’s fear into beans to count for their re-election. Because at the end of the day, these governors cannot block a federal law, they can only make it very difficult to carry it out. So by stirring up fear in their respective electorates, at the expense of the little boy who was lying face down on the beach, and his dead brothers, and his dead mother, and all of the fleeing, desperate human beings in a similar position, they make it difficult for people to try and understand that legally, we are bound to help these refugees, and even more difficult for people to accept that maybe, treating others with kindness and help is something that we can embrace, rather than fear. To those 24 governors, I ask you to be brave leaders and to stop pandering to fear.
I know it’s easier to respond to difficult situations with fear. I was afraid of my abusive husband for years, I still get PTSD flashbacks. My first instinct was to shut down, then to deny the violence was happening, to pretend everything was okay, he really didn’t hurt us, I must have just imagined it. But hiding in fear solves no problems, and the problems only get worse. Until there is nothing left inside you, the light that once was you, dwindled down to a tiny, tiny flame that is easily blown out.
Do we want ISIS to win? Because responding to ISIS with fear, is exactly what ISIS wants. They want us to be divided, they want to wage war, they want to conquer. And while it seems counterintuitive, we can’t meet ISIS’ actions with more fear. Hate plus fear plus more fear and hate, equals a whole lot of evil.
The refugees fleeing from this violence aren’t actually “the other.” They are us, we are all on the same side. The refugees just happen to be our brothers and sisters who were unfortunate enough to be on the front lines of terror. They are there, in the battlefields, their families enslaved, sold into slavery, or beheaded. We are here, me driving in my stinky car to work, because I’m lucky enough to have a job and have a kid or two who spills water and snacks as we go to school and if I forget to clean it up right away, congratulations to me, I have a stinky car.
If the tables were turned, and we were on the front lines, like the victims in Paris who are apparently easier for us Americans to relate to, wouldn’t we want someplace safe to flee to? Someplace where our humanity, hopes, dreams, peace, were respected and dignified?
Lastly, I will respond with kindness. What differentiates us from the Islamic state is that we do not persecute people because of their religion, race, color, education, abilities, sex, country of origin (read the Civil Rights Act and the American with Disabilities Act). At least, that’s apparently our goal—since we don’t have the greatest history record in acting any of this out, but we keep trying, and keep trying to improve i.e. the Marriage Equality supreme court decision just this year, after all. So if we are to be true citizens of our country, then it follows that we will find a way to help our fellow people with kindness. In this case, people who enter our country via the 1980 Refugee Act, are our fellow people.