Friday, November 20, 2015

The Difference Between Proper Vigilance and Xenophobia

In the weeks and months after 9/11, the nation's resolve was tested again and again. There was a strong temptation to lash out at Muslims in the country and make them pay for what had happened to us. I remember my wife and I went into Manhattan about a month after the attacks to visit the Trade Center site. Later on that day we ate a nice dinner in Little Italy.

While we were at Penn Station waiting for the train to take us home, a drunk was yelling at an Indian man standing on the platform. He obviously had mistaken him for a Muslim. After a couple of minutes of listening to his verbal diarrhea, I interrupted the asshole. "You do know that his people had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks," I said. "In fact, his people have been at war with the people who attacked us for centuries."

I didn't know which bothered me more: the fact that some ignoramus couldn't tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim or that he, like so many of my fellow countrymen, were once more sinking into the abyss of xenophobia that has gripped this nation so many times over its long history.

We saw it clearly after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Japanese Americans were interred in camps for no other reason than the fact that they were Japanese. During the Eisenhower Administration, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were forcibly removed from this country in a wave of anti-immigration and nativism. Some of those Mexicans were killed in what was disgustingly referred to as Operation Wetback.

Sadly, every ethnic minority has had to endure discriminatory treatment at the hands of the majority. The Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Pols, the Germans and the Jews have all been persecuted at one time or another. For the better part of a century, almost one quarter of the nation's population was enslaved; while the only true indigenous people were forcibly removed from their homelands and placed on reservations. Many of them became the victims of genocide.

Since the attacks in Paris, a new wave of xenophobia is sweeping America and it is directed, ironically enough, not at the terrorists, but at those who are fleeing the terrorists. The Syrian and Iraqi refugees that have overwhelmed much of Europe over the last few months, have now come under intense scrutiny, as it was revealed that one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks - the ring leader - might have been a refugee.

If that is true - and ABC News is confirming he was a Belgian citizen - it is certainly something to be concerned about. But it is worth noting that according to a piece in The Economist, of the almost 750,000 refugees that have settled in the United States since 9/11,  "only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq." Two out of three quarters of a million people. Hardly an epidemic. Also noteworthy is the fact that not one of the September 11th hijackers was a refugee. All of them came into the country legally with visas.

None of that of course makes any difference.  The people have been whipped into a frenzy by both reckless and irresponsible politicians and a weak-kneed media that long ago gave up any semblance of journalistic integrity. It's hard to know who's wagging whom these days. It is one thing to properly identify those who mean to do us harm, as I and others like Sam Harris, Thomas Friedman and Bill Maher have done; it is quite another to come completely unwound and succumb to nativist hysteria.

The refugees that are fleeing Syria and Iraq en mass are not our enemies. To treat them as such, as the recent House bill does, not only distracts us from what should be our true mission - that of combatting and defeating Islamic extremism, it has the unintended consequence of acting as a recruitment tool to lure yet more gullible souls into the grips of ISIS and al-Qaeda. In short, the more we clamp down on the influx of refugees, the more susceptible we become to being attacked again.

Our best weapon against ISIS is the very thing they despise most of all: our laws and our values. It is imperative that we hold onto to them at all costs. We cannot take the bait that they have dangled in front of us. We must resist the urge to overreact to these tragedies when they happen. The only thing worse than being attacked by your enemies is to become like them. The day that happens is the day they truly win.

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