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Thursday, March 22, 2018

It didn’t take long for the stampede to start.

By Sunday, even as stunned Parisians were still placing flowers at the sites of the terrorist atrocities that claimed more than a hundred lives and injured hundreds more, a couple of American governors had announced that Syrian refugees would not be welcome on their turf.

Within a few days, more than half the nation’s governors had signed on. (Never mind that governors have no authority to control borders.) Republican presidential candidates rushed to keep up, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pledging a religious test that would admit only Syrian Christians. By Thursday, the House had passed a bill with such stringent vetting standards that it would be virtually impossible to admit any Syrian refugees.

How depressing. Whatever happened to political leadership?

Yes, yes, Americans are shocked and frightened — and understandably so. The savage attacks on unarmed Parisians were carried out by affiliates of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL), which has established a stronghold in Syria, and were calculated to produce horror, to instill fear, to provoke panic. The point of terrorism, after all, is to terrorize.

And since fear is such a powerful emotion — with the capacity to overwhelm reason — it’s no surprise that the American public is now exhibiting a deep reluctance to take in Syrians displaced by war, even though many of them are also targets of ISIL’s brutality. A Bloomberg survey conducted in the wake of the Paris attacks showed that 53 percent of Americans oppose granting asylum to Syrian refugees.

But the proper duty of political leaders is to, well, lead. They shouldn’t pander to our fears or inflame our basest instincts. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many of them chose to do.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, desperate to raise his standing in the GOP presidential race, was more shameful than his rivals: “I don’t think that orphans under 5 should be admitted to the United States at this point.” Even for a governor who prides himself on in-your-face provocations, that’s pretty despicable.

But some pols managed to sink even lower. One Tennessee legislator, Rep. Glen Casada, proposed sending the National Guard to round up any Syrian refugees who’ve been resettled in his state and ship them out. Casada has clearly refused to learn from some disgraceful episodes in the nation’s history.

In 1939, for example, the United States, along with Cuba and Canada, denied entry to more than 900 Jews aboard the MS St. Louis seeking refuge from Nazi Germany. The refugees were forced to return to Europe, where, historians estimate, about a quarter of them later perished in death camps.

As historian Peter Shulman, a professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, recently pointed out, antipathy toward European Jews ran high even as the Nazis began their campaign of extermination. He cited a 1938 poll showing that 67 percent of Americans opposed bringing in “German, Austrian and other” political refugees.

The historical comparison isn’t perfect. The U.S. had not fully emerged from the Great Depression, and fear of economic competition was certainly a factor. But so was anti-Semitism — just as an anti-Muslim xenophobia is now. Among some, including President Roosevelt, there was also the suspicion that Nazi agents might be hiding among Jewish refugees. Sound familiar?

The nation’s hysteria didn’t stop with the refusal to aid the Jews aboard the St. Louis. Roosevelt also signed an executive order to round up more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent and hold them in internment camps; 62 percent of them were American citizens, some with sons serving in the U.S. armed forces. Decades later, the U.S. government officially apologized and acknowledged that the camps resulted from, among other things, “race prejudice.”

History, then, offers some powerful lessons about fear and the shameful reactions it can provoke. So let’s all keep our heads.

The Obama administration already has a thorough and painstaking vetting process for Syrian refugees that can take as long as two years. Is it perfect? No, it isn’t. But it sets a high bar for entry while also preserving our ability to assist those who most need our help.

Isn’t that what American exceptionalism is all about?

(Cynthia Tucker Haynes won Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at

Photo: Migrants and refugees are seen aboard a Turkish fishing boat as they arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from theTurkish coast to Lesbos October 11, 2015. REUTERS/Fotis Plegas G

28 Responses to Fear Of Syrian Refugees Brings Ugly Past Incidents To Mind

    • We definitely can’t send them back to be killed by ISIS or not even give them an option of getting the chance for a life much better than they were getting in Syria.

  1. People need to remember that any Syrian refugees accepted into the U.S. would have been vetted for at least 18 to 24 months. They are not refugees that are shown in the picture for this article who have just escaped from Syria. The likelihood that a terrorist would be among them is almost nil given they would have applied for entry into America probably 2 years ago.

    • If we want to spread democracy or Christianity – actions speak louder than words any day. We have shown them what democracy and Christianity is really like.

  2. Political Correctness – another word for cultural Marxism.

    Cultural Marxism: An offshoot of Marxism that gave birth to POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, multiculturalism and “anti-racism.”
    Unlike traditional Marxism that focuses on economics, Cultural Marxism focuses
    on culture and maintains that all human behavior is a result of culture (not
    heredity / race) and thus malleable. Cultural Marxists absurdly deny the
    biological reality of gender and race and argue that gender and race are
    “social constructs”.

    My question to you all then is? Why are you doing this. Why can’t their be acceptance of each race and culture. Perhaps that is the only way we can have peace in this world. In turn, you then become the racists and bigots. The sell-outs with an agenda. Unfortunately for the left you pushed it too far and the masses are beginning to awaken to the fact that the left is out to destroy.

    • Political Correctness – an expression used by racist and vicious “conservatives” to attempt to drag those with some sense of common decency, if a bit overzealous, down to the GOP level.

      • Joe Schmo is the son of nazies who escaped from Germany. I don’t throw that word out casually. His rhetoric, as well as that of his henchman, Otto. makes me believe they are active in the party.

        • I guess you’ve missed the multiple times I have asked if his family had to lie about how they spent the war to get to this country, or the post – made same day as this one – pointing out we could make a pretty good “guess” which country his family lived in during the war. I’ve also suggested to both that they’re polishing the buttons on their SS uniforms. Yes, I agree with you.

          • I knew someone else had picked up on it, I didn’t remember who. They are both a malignancy to this country. This country has done some pretty ugly things in the past. It is my country and I love what it is supposed to be, but if I attempt to justify every wrong, it will never be what it is supposed to be.

    • Marxism / Communism – terms used by the ignorant and bigoted to describe those with whom they disagree, particularly when they lack the brain power to have a rational discussion with people smarter and / or better educated than they.

      • You probably also remember hitler’s first thrust was against communists, then labor unions, gays, liberals and finally Gypsies, Poles, Czecks, anyone else who might disagree with his philosophy of hate. Strange thing was that the active resistance movement in France, that saved scores of Jews, was the Communist Party. The entire resistance party was executed.

  3. What’s sad is that so many people ignore history and need to be reminded of it in the first place. People who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    • This is not the first time we have been a selfish uncaring country. Remember the ship0load of people escaping nazi Germany that were turned away from our shores? All of them later perished in the camps. We should have those brave men who stormed Normandy beaches as our role models, not sniveling cowards.

    • Ignoring history is a modus operandi for the GOP. They’ve been following their same failed governance policies for the past 100 plus years, which is why every time a Republican is in the presidency, the economy slows down to a crawl, job creation is almost cut in half, the stock market goes nowhere and either one or two recessions is almost bound to materialize.

      • I understand why the GOP politicians do what they do. Crashing the economy and sending us to war is exactly what they want. What I don’t understand is why so many people still fall for it after all this time. I mean, I kinda do understand why. It’s because people are stupid. I guess I just don’t understand how so many people can be so stupid. *sigh*

        • Yeah! I find it hard to understand how Americans haven’t caught onto the GOP ploy long ago. And I’m especially puzzled by people over 65 supporting them: they make virtually no secret about working to destroy virtually all social benefits. My only sense is that the conservatives have cornered the media outlets and are controlling the propaganda given to the majority of the populace.

          • If they ever lose the senior vote, they won’t be competitive nationally anymore. That’s different from gaining the racist vote or the evangelical vote. They want to get rid of Social Security and Medicaid. I’m at a loss as to why so many seniors would vote for those policies.

          • An it’s even the right-wing trolls posting on the NM that keep supporting these GOP bandits. Can they be independently wealthy and just spending hours on the NM blogging as a past time?? As they sit back and watch the GOP work to dismantle virtually every social program and employee benefit that unions had fought so hard over almost 100 years to get for people to use in retirement??

            Can these right-winger trolls have stacked up so much savings overseas they don’t have to care about Social Security and Medicare being destroyed? Or the fact that Republicans have already killed pension plans for most people in companies and even generous 401k matches?? Or that even if they have large stock market accounts a GOP president can create another depression and even wipe those accounts out just as GWB did for millions of us retirees??

            I totally fail to see what any of these RW Trolls think the GOP has ever done for them or America, aside from filling the U.S. tax code with loopholes and tax cuts that lets the uber wealthy get away with pay little to no taxes. Can that be the secret – because there’s clearly nothing else the GOP has really done that’s benefited anyone in this country aside from the GOP politicians themselves and helping the wealthy suck trillions of dollars from the pockets of people that are struggling to live.

      • Factors leading to an economic downturn are from an accumulation of previous years mismanagement. Thus, one can conclude that the implosion of a high flying economic bubble created by Democrats is what Republicans inherit and have to fix. It’s like you buying a brand new house that you never maintain, let it go back the bank via foreclosure and let the next owner fix it back up.

        • Sorry, but that’s not what history has shown. There have been 20 recessions and depressions since 1900 and of those, 14 recessions and all three depressions occurred during a Republican presidency. And the worst of those occurred after 12 years of GOP mismanagement; a depression that started out as a simple recession late in 1928 which a Republican president (Hoover) greatly mismanaged and turned it into the Great Depression.

          And the president who holds the lead for the most depressions, Eisenhower, actually allowed 3 of them to occur during his two terms, the country waddled in depression almost 1/2 his 8 years in office. On top of that, the recession that occurred in G.H. W Bushes term occurred after 8 years of a GOP presidency and actually not long after Reagan had allowed a recession to occur in his 2nd term. And in fact, most recessions occurring during GOP presidents, occurred either in their 2nd term, or when they followed another Republican into office.

          And even the recession that occurred during GWB’s presidency didn’t start until he was in office over 10 months and a lot of why it occurred could have been a self-fulfilling prophesy, given that he had campaigned against Gore constantly claiming that the nation was falling into a recession – which it wasn’t.

          Add to that the fact that since 1900, when GOP presidents are in office, America’s GDP only grows at a paltry 2.6% rate, while under Democrats it grows at a 4.3% rate. In addition, since the 1929 stock market crash, over the 43 years that Democrats were if office, they’ve managed the economy in a way where the stock market has returned over a 300% gain – while Republicans have managed to end up with the stock market gain over their 42 years being actually LESS THAN ZERO.

          On top of all that, consider that during Carter’s, Clinton’s and now Obama’s presidencies, America has created 40 million net new jobs in around 19 years, while under Reagan and the 2 Bushes, only a paltry 20 million jobs in 20 years.

          So I’m sorry, but all the evidence clearly demonstrates that Republicans really know nothing about running a government.

        • And actually talking about “cleaning things up”; keep in mind that since Nixon’s 2nd term, every GOP president has governed with significant deficit spending; while every Dem president has reduced that deficit spending. Reagan and the 2 Bushes are responsible for more than 90% of our current 18T in debt and that’s despite the fact that under Obama, deficit spending has come down further and faster than under any other president in history.

          And keep this in mind too – that had Bush and the irresponsible GOP congresses not enacted numerous pieces of UNFUNDED LEGISLATION, we would most likely not be running deficits today – despite the fact that because of the Bush tax cuts for those earning under 400,000 are still in place, tax revenues are still not as high as they were pre Great Recession. (When you start 2 unfunded wars (which are being paid for today); 2 unfunded tax cuts(some of which is still inacted), an unfunded drug benefit giveaway to Big Pharma (Medicare Part D); and a number of UNFUNDED mandates to the states (like the disastrous No Child Left Behind fiasco); and then walk away leaving the next president to try to deal with paying for all that unfunded legislation – IT’S REALLY A DIRTY PLOY ON THE PART OF REPUBLICANS!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Our fear and cowardice has made us a nation of pretty ugly people. I wonder if we should strive to be those people I once thought we were.

  5. A politician primary goals are to get elected and stay elected. Thus, knee jerk responses to a catastrophic event is SOP. It matters not if the response is reasonable. The sad truth about immigration from any downtrodden country is that it does not fix anything. The fix is for people to stay in their home countries and do their own fighting. It is that the cream of society is who leaves–the very ones that have the education and skills to change things for the better. Those left abandoned at the home country are poor, uneducated and unable to help themselves. That is the breeding ground for terrorists.

    • That ‘staying in the country’ may make sense in many situations but not in the face of crazy radicals like ISIS that are going around slaughtering everyone they can get their hands on who refuse to agree to their mindlessly evil ideologies.

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