by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage
In the wake of 30 states refusing or opposing to take in Syrian refugees, Congressman Richard Hanna (R) of New York’s 22nd Congressional District issued a statement urging the Obama administration to immediately cease plans to accept refugees in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th.
In fact, Utica, a city of 62,000 people, has taken in more than 15,000 refugees from major conflict zones since 1981. From the Balkans, to Baghdad, to Burma. Places in between and beyond. From Latin America to both Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa. Utica is where so many have found a home.
In spite of what is now being cited as a possible security threat, the amount of refugees in Utica have been responsible for exactly zero terrorist attacks. A thinking mind might inquire about the risks associated with mass shootings perpetrated in schools, movie theatres, churches, political speeches and on college campuses. The tragic victims in Paris number 129 at this time. Police have killed nearly ten times that many Americans in 2015 alone. What is it we’re supposed to be afraid of again?
Forget that the “group” most likely to commit terrorism on US soil are white, Christian males. Congressman Hanna, and his colleagues, want to politicize a humanitarian crisis, fueled by climate change, capitalism and decades of Western military interference, by creating a border debate rooted in fear. He states:
I am joining with my colleagues in the House to call on the Obama Administration to immediately halt the admission of additional Syrian refugees until it can verify that a thorough and transparent process is in place to fully screen every individual.
On the Crisis
Beyond Utica, the United States has admitted 750,000 refugees since 9/11. Not one stands convicted of committing terrorism. In 2014, the US admitted 19,651 refugees from Iraq and 758 refugees from Afghanistan. These are not places where the US has been supposedly fighting terrorism? What logic leads one to suddenly decide that Syrian refugees are not to be allowed? Of the 400 Syrian refugees admitted in 2014, where has there been an act of terrorism attributed to them on US soil? That Hanna laughably joins a circus which is demanding increased scrutiny for asylum seekers is all the more apparent when considering that refugees go through 18 months of screening already. Perhaps if the Paris attacks got the publicity that similar events in Beirut and Nigeria got, there’d be no outrage to speak of.
So where’s the fire? It’s rooted in a pitifully shallow understanding of events which continue to unravel the fabric of the Middle East. The epistemic black hole that is the American conscience rears its head once again. Events decades in the making, starting with the uprooting of the Palestininian people in 1948 and the CIA-led overthrow of the Iranian democracy just a few years later in 1953, being decided on with born-yesterday hindsight.
There have been reactions to the attacks in Paris, and the looming refugee crisis, that have shone true courage, like the rallies in Europe that overwhelmed and chased away anti-refugee demonstrations to instead convey a message of peace and acceptance. Open arms, not for monsters, but for the people originally fleeing the monsters. A reality lost on many.
Adding to the repulsion is the idea that all of this refugee stuff is falling on the West, which couldn’t be farther from any measure of the truth. Cherry-picked claims that Muslim countries aren’t taking in refugees, peddled by right wing rags, are demonstrably false and can be disproven with the slightest bit of internet “research”.
While millions flee a multi-sided conflict in Syria, Europe is only seeing about six percent of that number. Muslim nations in the region have taken on nearly the full load of refugees with Turkey taking in approximately two million alone. Lebanon has taken in over a million. Jordan, 629,000. Iraq, 249,000. Egypt, 132,000. The UAE, 250,000. No, Gulf States (sans UAE) haven’t taken in any, but manipulation of the numbers for quick anti-Muslim talking points is blatant.
‘Stop Participating In It’
We’ve been subjected to speculations about passports. And urged to withhold our judgement. The latter validated by emerging reports of counterfeit documents, but moreso reports that these attackers in Paris were European by nationality. Invariably, the discourse continues to talks of combatting and ending terrorism. Noam Chomsky, activist, philosopher, professor and the utmost source on US foreign policy criticism, has long since offered a concise method to that end:
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”
This is what separates people opposed to accepting Syrian refugees. The lack of background that the US public has of this crisis and the conflict(s) which created it can seem mindblowing to people who have sought to learn about America’s, and the West’s, foreign policy. Nationalist types are so stuck on the image of the United States as a superpower, a glowing beacon of capitalist freedom, that they either attribute America’s rise to guts, guns and supernatural beings, or are wholly unaware of what it takes for superpowers to exist and maintain their hegemony. In short, it does take a lot of guns. And a lot of those guns are ours. It also takes a lot of guts, and those, those aren’t ours.
How many of these people are aware of the brutal repression France supported in order to maintain its colonies? — notably Algeria and Syria. Brutality is in the very nature of colonization.
When do people who write-off the Middle East as “fucked up” ignite the correlation in their mind between subverting foreign democracies and the emergence of hardline dictatorships that cede drilling rights to US and other Western companies? The concept of protecting ourselves from failed states is dipped in thick irony as our government abandons its own responsibility to keep the nation safe by creating threats that it later uses for political means. That isn’t to imply conspiracy, but rather opportunity.
Weren’t there warnings, 15 years ago, about how invading Iraq would create more terrorism? Do the “blame America first crowd” get any credit for telling us all so?
What we’re dealing with has roots. It goes back generations. The capitalist West, in pursuit of privatizing energy resources, has subverted and outright toppled many pillars of secular, modern societies in the Middle East. The common depiction of Arabs and Arab Muslims (who do not even comprise the majority of the Islamic faith) is of bearded goat-herders who don’t shower and are as likely to bed those goats as they are their 12-year-old daughters. The truth is that in the past 60 years, from North Africa to Afghanistan, the West has crippled an entire civilization in the pursuit of profit. Toppling it completely in many parts. Presidents turn into Shahs. Shahs to Ayatollahs. All because a democratically elected leader decided to nationalize his nation’s oil. Meanwhile, the most repressive regimes, like Saudi Arabia, have always enjoyed a close relationship with America and the West due to their open-for-business attitiude.
This approach, as evidenced by states like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt and Lebanon (to keep the list shortish), has resulted in instability for secular governments while the stability of nations like Saudi Arabia, a repressive state and known exporter of Wahabbism (a branch of Islam closely associated with fundamentalism, was guaranteed in exchange for oil.
Afghanistan’s history in the past 40 years is probably the best example of the West’s approach and impact on the Muslim world. Its vibrant Central Asian cities, boasting co-ed universities, elaborate mosques, men in suits and fancy cars, all reduced to rubble due to American destabilizing of Soviet-biased leadership in Kabul. The onset of decades of civil and proxy war have reduced Afghanistan to medieval tribes warring among the ruins of once-bustling cities. US support and training for the mujahideen is such a now-famous blunder that it barely requires mention. This has been carried out in Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Palestine, Syria — the list goes on.
Gaza, where Israeli warplanes bomb what is essentially the rubble of what they already bombed, use white phosporous against civilians and violently repulse foreign aid workers, not to the criticism of society’s who supposedly cherish freedom, but to their cheers of support — including the presidential candidates of both major political parties.
Thousands killed in drone strikes as the Obama administration expanded the war on terrorism into non-combatant countries. Yemenis, Omanis, Pakistanis growing up without parents. Without arms and legs. Futures wiped out as the blackened bodies of children litter the farms and shops where their parents once labored.
In 1991, parades were held in American cities for the troops who had come back from liberating Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, and reinstated their dictatorship thereafter.
The collective landscape of these countries isn’t that of some desolate, wreck-strewn, scavanger’s paradise in the likeness of Tatooine. In every sense of the words stated a few paragraphs ago, the Muslim world’s was a modern civilization aggressively rolled-back where it interfered with Western ideals of conquest and profit. Surely then we can understand that there would be any number of reactions to this from protest, to activism and to outright killing.
I have to break in order to take time to painfully explain that, no, I do not condone what happened in Paris. It’s painful because it should be obvious that simply explaining the conditions of the sides less understood does not automatically cede support to the most violent among them. That said, any hope of reaching a better resolution will only come with understanding. I know how disappointing that must sound to the tough talk eminating an ocean away from the scene of attack. So far, we have responded with bombs and violence and bred more bombs and violence while never fully recognizing that entities like ISIS are reactions. We have sewn the wind with death, and reaped the whirlwind of death in return.
Breaking our own cycle of violence and exploitation would go farther. Or maybe it wouldn’t. It’s certainly never been tried, but the methods adopted for years have been rooted in a philosophy that we can tear a society down to its most basic sums and protect ourselves from the repercussions behind a world-beating military. It’s been a dangerous game for millions.
Alternatively, if we want to put Syrian refugees through extra scrutiny, then why not white, Christian males? ISIS never shot up a movie theatre in Colorado. Al-Qaeda never bombed abortion clinics in Atlanta. Hezbollah never shot up an elementary school or a college campus. Hamas never shot up a church in Charleston. Do we apply these screening tactics to all white males seeking to enter public venues? If this argument seems trite, consider what it is when asking over a billion people to apologize for a few thousand, knowing full-well that no Christian from the US apologized for the likes of Anders Breivik; nor did we expect apologies to pour out from Europe for the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.
Congressman Hanna lends his voice to nothing but an empty gesture. Void of any real strategy to address what creates terrorists. Hanna’s Congress will continue doing as it pleases with the populations of the world, like Congresses and Western parliaments before, because the Big Stick cedes nothing to demands for peace. When’s the last time we had a Congressperson or CEO paint the walls of their office with brains as a result of combat fatigue? They do the pillaging, we do the fighting and if the fight comes to us, we do the dying. These aren’t legitimate institutions leading us into conflict, the strategy to turn tragedy into a political argument exposes this untidy effort to gain consensus through fear.