The anti-Islamic fervor from politicians on social media this week sure has me feeling my white privilege. I mean, I was raised Catholic. I feel fortunate that Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee aren’t tweeting that all Catholics are child molesters. Yet despite an extremely small percentage of Muslims being fundamentalists, many Americans are quick to lump the entirety of the world’s largest religion into one barbarian murder cult. Even George W. Bush once spoke against this rush to judgment saying, “Islam is peace.” He’s not a fella you would usually think of when thinking about embracing Islamic tolerance.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It stops many of us from chasing our dreams. Fear can make us run away from the people we love. It stops many of us from helping strangers on the street. Fear makes the citizenry abandon our freedom and privacy. It’s an emotion with so much influence on the human brain that otherwise rational people become completely irrational. Fear once made me stay in a hotel for a week until exterminators could promise me there weren’t any more spiders in my house. Not really, but that paragraph needed a punchline. I was afraid it would be too depressing without one. Once again, fear wins out.
Because of fear, many Americans are ignoring the basic fact that Syrian refugees are fleeing those same terrorists we’re afraid of in the West. A Republican state legislator in Texas actually said that he doesn’t think Syrian refugees should be allowed there because it would be too easy for them to get guns. That’s right, the fear is so potent that the Texan GOP is questioning their lax gun laws.
Syrian refugees are experiencing the most human reaction to fear. They’re fleeing. After a drought that scientists say was caused by climate change, Syrians saw their farmlands decimated and 85% of their livestock lost. There was very little access to water nationwide, even in the cities. Access to wells was only given to those with ties to the Assad regime. Nearly one million family farms were destroyed. Syrians asked for help and Assad’s government didn’t respond well. Assad murdered and tortured Syrians who spoke up about the needs of the people, and there were many. At this point, there was no ISIS in Syria. However, thanks to the meddling of the West, in hopes to oust Assad, these militant cultists found funding and forged stronghold in Syria. Now, the Syrian people, the regular people, the farmers and families, are fleeing from a country war-torn between an evil dictatorship and murderous jihadists. Talk about fear; that’s some scary stuff.
Those hardships don’t inspire empathy in every American though. Many Americans are too fired up with fear to do the right thing. Instead of embracing humanity and choosing to help these victims of tragedy and terrorism, many Americans want to close borders and hide. They wrongly equate the world’s largest religion with a small cult, the equivalent of saying David Koresh represented all Americans and all Christians. The fact is that ISIS kills more Muslims than anyone else. The refugees are seeking safety from our mutual enemy.
The French government is standing up against this fear and will continue to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Besides, so far all of the terrorists identified from the attack on Paris last week have been EU citizens. Just like how the United States has resettled 784,000 refugees since September 11, 2001, without a single one of them performing an act of terrorism here, the fear against being good people and living up to our values is unfounded.
America has a bad track record with immigrants and refugees. Fewer than five percent of Americans were in favor of helping Jewish refugees during World War II. We rounded up Japanese immigrants and put them in camps. Politicians score points to this day demonizing Hispanic refugees. Even Italian and Irish Catholic immigrants were treated poorly when they first fled to America. And they were white!
All Christians aren’t abortion clinic bombers. Only a small number are. All Muslims aren’t terrorists. Only a small number are. All hipsters aren’t holding up the line at Whole Foods. Only when you are in a hurry.
Most religious people are peaceful, kind and charitable, no matter their denomination. Most atheists and agnostics are peaceful, kind and charitable. Most people. Let’s not shut down humanity over the fear of a murder cult. We dealt with Manson; we can deal with ISIS. Let’s embrace our love of peace, our kindness and our compassion for charity. This is as good a time to do so as any.
Yes, ISIS needs to be stopped, and we should do so with Muslim allies who embrace the Islam of peace. We also need to embrace our American values of offering a helping hand, welcoming the downtrodden and caring for each other. If we REALLY want to make a change in this world, we have to tackle climate change, income inequality, and the corporate influence on Geo-politics. That’s no small order, but it’s also no small coincidence that stocks in arms manufacturers soared right after Paris was attacked.
The drums are beating for perpetual war. Lindsay Graham has already introduced legislation exactly for that. I, for one, would rather see a feel-good movie about impoverished people finding safety and quality of life worldwide than another big-budget “here comes the apocalypse” flick, no matter how well it’s being marketed to American audiences.
Michael Salamone is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor from Chautauqua, NY who resides in Denver, CO. His current events podcast SALAMONE is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and all of the major podcast apps. Visit him at michaelsalamone.com.