Grandstanding on the backs of refugees


In a year when political discourse includes the idea of building a wall on the Mexican border “with a really big door” to keep outsiders out, it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise when 31 governors, all but one of them Republicans, took a gratuitous shot at the victims of the Syrian civil war and declared that their states would not take in refugees out of fear that one or more of the new arrivals might be violent.
The governors’ declarations come in (over)reaction to the harrowing Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris.

We’re disappointed that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, usually a reasonable man, joined the chorus of those who speak as if the United States is being flooded by a sea of plotting Syrian men, women and children. At the same time, to Maryland’s south, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, announced that Virginia will welcome refugees.

All of this rhetoric from the governors is grandstanding, of course, since immigration is a federal issue. But the nativist impulses that are surfacing — such as calls by some Republican presidential candidates to only admit Christian refugees — are troubling. Perhaps as a way to instill some sensitivity into the debate, articles began circulating in the media about opinion polls taken before the Holocaust showing that Americans favored barring Jewish refugees from the country. But the Holocaust analogy backfired when others argued that unlike the Syrians today, Jewish refugees weren’t armed and ready to “blow themselves up in theaters,” as one writer put it.

Another argument is that Arab and Muslim states should take in the refugees, with whom they share a culture or religion. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3 million Syrians have fled to nearby Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The rich Gulf states, however, seem unwilling to host refugees. That’s unfortunate. And just as we call on the United States to do its part, we urge majority Muslim nations to do more to take in their coreligionists. But if history is a guide, they won’t. So the world should not depend on the Gulf states to help solve this crisis.

The solution here is not a focus on the refugees themselves. Nor is demagoguery or xenophobia a particularly compelling basis for argument. Rather, the answer lies in effecting an end to the carnage in Syria, which began when President Bashar al Assad fired on peaceful demonstrators in 2011. Closer to home, the work is to insist again and again that the fight is against terrorists, and against the Islamic State. It is not against Muslims or Islam. Or, for that matter, women and children.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here