Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
The horrific attacks in Paris last Friday by ISIS-affiliated criminals, resulting in the murders of 129 innocent people, were part of a quite scary rash of assaults. The downing of the Russian jetliner over Egypt, which killed 224 innocent people, and the market bombing in Beirut, which occurred just a day before Paris and killed 43 innocent people, were also the work of these lunatics. One may call the perpetrators extremists, jihadists, radicals, terrorists, or simply, and perhaps most fittingly, a–holes. In any case, their crimes seem to be targeted to cause not only mass death, but mass fear as well. And sadly, at least as far as many American politicians (especially those on the right) seem to be posturing, ISIS is getting exactly what they want.
In the wake of Paris, American politicians have begun to demand that no Syrian refugees be permitted to enter the United States. It should be noted that these demands have basically broken down along party lines. Democratic leaders have mainly stressed that Syrian refugees are fleeing the same forces we are fighting, and therefore we should show solidarity with their plights. President Obama labeled calls to refuse their entry a “betrayal of American values.” Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, much to his credit, declared that “accommodating 65,000 refugees in our country, people of 320 million is akin to making room for six and a half more people in a baseball stadium with 32,000.” He went to correctly state, “They are fleeing the same sort of carnage that was unleashed on the people of France.”
Republicans, however, have not been as compassionate. Donald Trump, who has been this season’s anti-immigration champion, likened any wave of refugees to a Trojan Horse. Doesn’t he know we ride Arabian horses, not Trojan ones? According to Chris Christie, the United States should not allow anyone in, even “orphans under age 5.” Ted Cruz even suggested that we should let in the Syrian Christian refugees, as long as they can prove their love for Christ. And Jeb Bush agrees with him. I guess God doesn’t only talk to his brother. Apparently, Bush and Cruz believe that while these terrorists are smart enough to put together high-level, coordinated attacks, they are too dumb to learn the Lord’s Prayer.
And Ben Carson, not missing a beat, wrote an op-ed for Time Magazine this week, stressing that not a single Syrian should be allowed refuge. He warned, “The reality is that the threat of radical Islam and the corrosive influence of Sharia law here in the U.S. is not just a figment of our imagination.” This is the war cry of the right, the “sharia law” mantra. I would like to let Mr. Carson know that I live in Dearborn, Michigan, or as some right-wing commentators call it, “Dearbornistan.” Dearborn has frequently been accused of implementing sharia law time and again on Fox News and the like. As a quite secular resident, I can tell everyone that I have felt no effects of any such thing. Our mayor is a white Christian (admittedly, this is because Arabs are always two hours late to the polling booth). For every mosque in the city, there are 9 churches . Bacon is readily available everywhere (thank God!). Bars that serve alcohol are on every corner (many of them owned and frequented by Muslims, by the way). And, finally, and perhaps most strikingly, Dearborn is home to three strip bars. I’d be happy to show them to Dr. Carson whenever he pleases.
When assessing the issue of Syrian refugees coming to the United States, we should keep a few things in mind. First, many (perhaps most) of the Arab and Muslim immigrants who have come to America over the past 40 years were escaping wars and political turmoil. In other words, they were refugees. They rebuilt neighborhoods (just check out Dearborn), got educated (just check out most hospital emergency rooms), and contributed greatly to the economy of America (just check out your local gas stations, independent supermarkets, and jewelry stores… sometimes you’ll find all three in one place). Second, the only power that ISIS can ever hope to have is the prospect that we act on the fear they attempt to instill. If these crazies are trying to build some sort of state in Syria in Iraq, well, they need people. Forcing people to stay there helps them achieve their twisted goals. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, President Obama is right when he says cutting off the refugees is counter to our values. It’s collective punishment. It’s guilt by association. It’s holding the lot guilty for the insane acts of the few. It is, in short, un-American. By the way, weren’t the pilgrims refugees too?
Ultimately, this is a question of who we are. But it’s not complicated. To any Americans who agree with the Republican party, who touts themselves as believing in individualism and meritocracy, who call America the greatest nation in the history of the world, who declare their love for the American Dream, I say you must make a choice. Either you believe in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty or you don’t. It’s that simple.
* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."