Fear itself

I’d seen it right along, and plenty of other people have commented on it before me, but I don’t think it really sunk in until just this past week, with all the hand-wringing over Syrian refugees:

Republicans are a bunch of cowards.

I’ve never seen so much fear as has been on display the past week from the Republicans (and, I must admit, way too many Democrats as well). And over what? A bunch of people—largely educated and middle class—who have been forced to flee their homes.

Seriously, the Republicans are straight up afraid of widows and orphans. What’s up with that?

I mean, I totally understand why the Syrians are afraid. They have soldiers and militias fighting house-to-house in their neighborhoods, blasting them with artillery, even using chemical weapons. Not to mention, they have U.S., French, and Russian air forces dropping bombs on those same militias, in the same neighborhoods.

But the Republicans? What are they afraid of? They’re afraid that some “terrorist” will “slip in” amongst the masses of refugees and commit “acts of terror” in the United States.

Well, these hypothetical refugee-terrorists (of which we’ve seen exactly zero so far) will have to get at the back of a pretty long line, behind the non-hypothetical white-supremacist, right-wing, and anti-government militias (not to mention depressed loner high-school boys) who have been committing mass murders in the U.S. in numbers well in excess of those committed by foreign terrorists.

Perhaps worst of all, most of the Republican rhetoric isn’t even aimed at affecting government policy; it’s aimed at preemptively setting up other people to take the blame. “We said you had to give ‘100% assurance’ that they wouldn’t be terrorists before you could let them in, so if even one of them commits a terrorist act it’s all on you!” (They know perfectly well that ‘100% assurance’ is impossible, which is why they demand it. It makes me want to point out that in the U.S. we convict people of capital crimes and execute them, and all we require is assurance “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I expect pointing that out makes me a rose-colored glasses wearing liberal who’s endangering our country.)

Fortunately, some people are man enough not to quake in their boots at the idea of some ordinary families fleeing terror and ending up here, and man enough not to be terrorized at the idea that they might have to take the blame if an evildoer does slip in. I’m thinking of President Obama here, rather too few Democrats in Congress, most of my liberal friends, and (oddly, because I don’t think of myself as especially brave) me.

Appalling letter from senator Mark Kirk

I got email today from one of my senators, with the text of a truly appalling letter to president Obama from the senator and eleven of his colleagues.

The letter (here’s his press release on it) calls on the president to ensure that “no refugee related to the Syrian crisis is admitted to the United States unless the U.S. government can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance, that they are not members, supporters, or sympathizers of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”

It’s obviously intended to be an unattainable threshold, but that’s really beside the point—the whole thing is completely wrong-headed.

I was moved to respond, and sent him this message via the contact form on his website:

I wanted to say that I was appalled by the letter to president Obama that you shared with me.

Since 9/11, the number of refugees who have committed terrorist attacks in the US is exactly zero—which suggests to me that keeping refugees out of the US is a complete waste of time and effort.

Targeting refugees—the most helpless and vulnerable among us—is not only pointless, it is also heartless and cruel. It is a failure to live up to our obligations under international law. It is also, in my opinion, terribly unamerican.

There are far better, far more effective ways to protect US citizens than by heaping yet more misery on those who have already faced the violent extremism of ISIS—those Syrians who have been forced by it to flee their own country.

I urge you to write to the president and let him know that you repudiate your entire letter, and to suggest that existing US policies on refugees, established in accordance with international law, should remain in place.

Another eleven senators signed the letter. If yours was one of them, you might want to contact your senator and say something. Feel free to borrow from my text, if it speaks to you.