Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When fear wins we lose

I am proud to say that I lived for many years in the one community in the United States that welcomed 982 mostly Jewish refugees from
Nazi Germany, many of whom were orphans and children victimized by the German Holocaust in 1944. It was not an easy thing at the time to welcome such strangers, and indeed sentiment back then was very much against accepting Jewish refugees who were viewed by many as being "different" from us, or a potential threat to our homeland. 
    I am not proud to say , however, that for several years I lived in a state where the Governor, Sam Brownback of Kansas , has gone so far as to issue a proclamation against the acceptance of any refugees from war torn Syria. So much for "Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
    In that sense, Kansas is the loser and NY is the winner when it comes to standing up for heartland values. 
     Xenophobia is fed by fear, and fear is the stock in trade of terrorists, and by giving in to fear and abandoning our true traditional spirit of being the land where the teeming masses again breath free, we lose. When fear wins, they win. We can't let that happen, and we can't let these crazed religious zealots succeed in their mission of international terror. 

This is not to say that we need not be vigilant in the defense of the homeland. 
    To succeed in thwarting the evil advances of groups like ISIS, it is clear that we may need to employ certain methods which run counter to our tendency to protect people's privacy, but if that's the case, so be it. Better safe than sorry. There is no constitutional right to have an app on your I phone which is capable of encrypting I phone communications to shield perpetrators dastardly deeds and hide their covert planning for the worst. Without these tools to protect us against such plotters, we continue to be vulnerable. That needs to change, and quickly. 
    But to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the victims of civil unrest and war because of the remote possibility of  infiltration of the refugee population by insidious zealots hell bound for destruction of the west and all it stands for, would be an even worse choice. Rejecting Muslims on account of their faith would only play into the hands of those who seek to find new recruits for their Jihadist cause. 
     In the final analysis, we must stand up for our values as a nation, and not be deterred by those who fan the flames of xenophobia. We were right to accept those 982 refugees in 1944. As pitifully few as they were, it was the right thing to do to accept those refugees. We should and could have done more. 
     It was wrong to intern many Japanese citizens and emigrants in camps on the west coast during WWII. It would be doubly wrong for us to now refuse the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees because a group of crazed Islamic Jihadists from France and Belgium have acted so brutally as to scare the western world into submission to their terrorist aims. We can fight them. We can defeat them, but we must do so by standing up for our ideals and principles instead of cowering in fear. When we are true to our values in the face of such adversity, we win, and they lose. It's as simple as that. 

    ( The writer is a former Mayor of Oswego who lived for three years recently in Kansas, and taught government and politics at the university level).