By Reacting to Fear, We Let ISIS Win
Here we are, in the aftermath of a global tragedy, letting fear divide us. This statement could apply to any number of historical events in the history of the United States, going back as far as World War II and the internment of thousands of Japanese-American people.
It is not the mid-1900s, but yet again we find ourselves the victims of fear. Rather than fighting the source of our terror, we are fighting each other. Rather than helping the helpless, we are scapegoating them, judging them based on their appearance, their homeland, and their religion. For that reason, ISIS has already succeeded in a country it has yet to directly attack.
It is entirely hypocritical of the United States to deny assistance to a group of people who are fleeing not only an organization we have vowed to take down, but also an area that we as a country have helped to unhinge. Some of the unrest in the Middle East is directly related to American involvement in that region over the past decade, and to say otherwise is fallacy. We are fighting a “war on terror” and in fact, records show that residents of Middle Eastern countries, and more specifically Muslims, are the group most affected by terrorism.
But what do we do when the terrorists are claiming the same religion as their victims? That is simple: ISIS and all its associated monikers are not true representations of Islam, and we should not judge the millions of people who practice Islam by ISIS’ actions. It calls itself the “Islamic State,” but the only word that should be associated with its members is “terrorists.” Arguments that Islam as a religion actually promotes such terrorism are not based in fact, but rather false stereotypes that have circulated for years. Just watch Professor Reza Aslan skillfully defend Islam in this interview with CNN last year, which has resurfaced since the Paris attacks:
Blatant facts are usually not enough to curb the rising panic of American Islamophobia, though, especially when a Syrian passport was allegedly found near one of the Paris suicide bombers. The facts and origins of this passport are hazy, and it calls into question not only the motives behind the suicide bomber carrying such a passport, but also the security of European countries, not America.
Why would a jihadist who expressly rejects all notions of modern citizenship take his passport on a suicide mission? So it gets found.
— Charlie Winter (@charliewinter) November 15, 2015
ISIS has blatantly stated that its goals are to fan Islamophobia throughout the West, proving to itself and to Muslim people that the West is a land of corruption and ISIS holds the key to eternal happiness. On his website, Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Aaron Zelin has collected ISIS videos explaining its motivations. Their latest video is entitled “Would You Exchange What Is Better for What Is Less?” and warns Muslims against fleeing to Christian lands where they will be persecuted. Zelin explains along with the video:
The reality is, The Islamic State (IS) loathes that individuals are fleeing Syria for Europe. It undermines IS’ message that its self-styled Caliphate is a refuge, because if it was, individuals would actually go there in droves since it’s so close instead of 100,000s of people risking their lives through arduous journeys that could lead to death en route to Europe.
And we are falling right into ISIS’ trap.
Since the Obama administration has announced that the United States still plans on accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees, something we have been planning to do for months, several governors have written statements that they will not allow refugees access to their state. However, according to the Refugee Act of 1980, they don’t have the power to do so. The federal government will still resettle hundreds of refugees in each state, regardless of what these governors say. The federal government cannot, however, dictate the welcome these refugees will receive, and since so many Americans are giving into the fear of ISIS-incited Islamophobia, that welcome–or lack-thereof–could be terrifying in itself.
And it isn’t just American citizens who are letting fear dictate their actions. Politicians are joining in the frenzy as well. Sen. Rand Paul even went so far as to introduce a bill that would immediately halt refugee visas.
Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement on Monday:
Making policy based on this fear mongering is wrong for two reasons. It is factually wrong for blaming refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it is legally wrong because it violates our laws and the values on which our country was founded.
Those values are written plainly on the Statue of Liberty. We say “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” But as John F. Kennedy sardonically wrote in his 1958 book “A Nation of Immigrants,” America has taken to adding: “as long as they come from Northern Europe, are not too tired or too poor or slightly ill, never stole a loaf of bread, never joined any questionable organization, and can document their activities for the past two years.”
We should be outraged that those words are as true today as they were in 1958. Yet our outrage is currently misdirected at refugees, rather than at the terror they are seeking refuge from. What adds to the irony is the argument coming from conservatives and conservative leadership that we should take care of the homeless, especially the homeless veterans, on U.S. soil before offering to help foreigners. The reality is that the past seven bills introduced in Congress that would have assisted those homeless vets were blocked by Republicans.
Which brings me back to this: American people and politicians are fighting each other rather than facing the problem as one unified force. We are giving into the fear that has historically produced some of the ugliest eras in our country’s history. In this pivotal moment, we must prove ISIS wrong. We must not persecute or blame the refugees, but lead the charge against the enemy we share.
We must remember that united we stand, and divided we fall.