‘Two dimensions of otherness’ – the Syrian refugee crisis migrates to America

“Each new American citizen brings a unique set of skills and experiences which they can use to improve our communities and our nation. And each of them can help renew our shared hope that unlimited possibilities are available to everyone who embraces the opportunities that this country offers under its Constitution.”
– León Rodríguez, Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, column on U.S. Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, 2015

“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims… when can we get rid of them?”
– Question posed to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in New Hampshire, September 17, 2015

It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s promise to welcome 10,000 refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, is causing some in our nation to flex their nationalist, racist muscle. Never mind that many are only a couple of generations removed from their refugee ancestors. Never mind that this latest batch of refugees can be linked directly to the mistakes we made invading Iraq, part of the Bush Doctrine’s sad, flawed legacy, and because of that we bear some responsibility.

“When we talk about Iraq and Afghanistan refugees,” says Ted Terry, the mayor of “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America,” Clarkston, Georgia, “we’re talking mainly about people who helped out American and coalition forces during the war, people who risked their lives to help our soldiers in those wars, and who, if they stayed there, would be killed.”

“These resettlement programs,” Terry added, “are making up for the turmoil and the war and the strife that, quite frankly, America caused by inserting ourselves into those parts of the world.”

But humanity and empathy are set aside as too complex for simple minds that react more easily to hatred and fear.The immigrant is hated because he is different, and feared because of her olive skin and stigmatized culture. Take a look what is happening in Europe, right now, as hundreds of thousands of displaced people flee war to seek a better life in the West.

“Certainly the fact that the majority of the refugees are Muslims is a problem,” Dr. Luca Mavelli, a professor of Politics and International Relations at he University of Kent, in England, told National Public Radio, Monday. “There is an issue in Europe, which is a longstanding conflation between migrants and Muslims, so two dimensions of otherness that, somehow, are now coming together, and are well represented by Eastern European countries, like Hungary or The Czech Republic who have been very clearly stating that they would only take Christian refugees.”

And despite the fact that these brave souls are undertaking dangerous and harrowing journeys to reach Germany, France and England, their tiny children washed up on the beach like driftwood, the entire throng is demonized because most of them are Muslim. The hand wringing over solutions to the crisis has brought out some of the worst on our shores, as well.

“The rhetoric has been really awful,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Newsweek, recently. “The difficulty of doing it is met by this Islamophobia and conflation of Syrians and Iraqis with terrorists.”

“Every person has their own story. They are human beings, here,” explained Ted Terry. “The term refugee is not a monolith. When we say refugee, we are talking about people from Eritrea who are Coptic Christians. When we’re talking about Syrians, we’re talking about people who are both Muslims and Christians.”

Back in January, when it was apparent there would be new migrants from the war weary Near East coming to America, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to the White House warning that inviting thousands of Syrian refugees to our country would be offering “a backdoor for jihadists” who would take advantage of the melee to blend in with other immigrants.

“We… know that ISIS wants to use refugee routes as cover to sneak operatives into the West,” he wrote in a statement, after the White House announcement, last week.

But State Department officials insist there is already a rigorous and deliberate screening protocol for refugees. “We have a very slow process of moving refugees through our pipeline, and part of it is because of the security vetting component,” Larry Bartlett, the Director of Refugee Admission for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, told ABC in February.

Scenes from Clarkston, Georgia, "the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.". (Click to enlarge.)
Scenes from Clarkston, Georgia, “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.” (Click to enlarge.)

That one to two year vetting process, combined with “good community policing, good community relations with the Muslim leaders in these communities,” said Mayor Terry, make him feel his town is as safe as any in America.

“For Clarkston,” he added, “we’ve had 35 years of refugee resettlement. We’ve had them from many different Muslim countries. We’ve had them from Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, certainly, and we haven’t had a terrorist come over in those 35 years. I don’t expect that to change.”

That’s important to Terry because even Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) acknowledges that most of the new refugees are likely to end up there. Like other Republican run states, Georgia’s leaders have asked Washington not to increase their share of refugees. Deal explained his state’s position to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week:

“Deal’s administration confirmed Tuesday it has asked the State Department to keep the number of refugees resettling in the Peach State ‘static’ going into the next fiscal year.

“‘We will be welcoming,’ Deal told the AJC. ‘But we want to make sure we’re not taking a disproportionately large share of them compared to other parts of the country.'”

Deal is supported by some of his party’s hardliners, like pundit and political consultant Phil Kent, who recently published a piece titled, “Gov. Deal Seeks to Limit Muslim Refugee Influx.” Like its headline, the post unsparingly criticizes Obama’s decision based on the faith of the migrants and reiterates the aforementioned “conflation” that equates them with terrorism.

“I don’t recall ever voting in the United States for bringing in masses of Muslims,” Kent said, this week, on a local news and current events television panel where he appears as a regular guest.

Terry finds that attitude counterproductive, and insists that the promise of America demands we take in the refugees:

“We can invite them to come to America as a gesture of good will and compassion, lead by example in that regard, and when they get here, they find out, ‘Oh, my goodness! Americans aren’t the evil Satan. Maybe they’re not as bad as people in my country said they were. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. They helped save me from this terrible position I was in, helped me to save my children, and here I am in a place that’s not only free, but also safer and has a lot more opportunity than I ever could have dreamed of.’

“That’s the only way we’re ever going to win this war of ideas between radical Islam and what is not a religious argument, but more of an argument over liberty and freedom. That’s what we say in the pledge of allegiance every single school day and every City Council meeting in Clarkston. We talk about ‘…with liberty and justice for all.’ That’s exactly what we’re doing for these refugees. We’re providing liberty and justice for all of them.”



Dying in custody – a most necessary conversation

Oh freedom,
Oh freedom,
Oh freedom over me
And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my lord and be free

Lulled and complacent among a couple of thousand righteous liberals and progressives, what should be seen is often easily hidden. The obvious remains obscured behind conversations about Congressional districts, campaign finance and the buzz surrounding the Left’s favorite 2016 candidate.

Then, in the darkness of a large exhibition hall, where only the two people sitting on the stage are lit, a rumbling begins. A chant goes up…

“What side are you on, my people? What side are you on?”

…and about fifty conference attendees move up the aisles to the front of the room…

“What side are you on, my people? What side are you on?”

…and the veil lifts, revealing something every good liberal should already know:

Black people don’t have a voice.

Even in a progressive gathering,

Black people don’t have a voice.

There’s a mixture of applause and grumbling aimed at the disruptors. Some are joining in the chanting. What are they saying? Why are they interrupting the presidential candidate town hall that was billed as the highlight event of this year’s Netroots Nation gathering in Phoenix? Aren’t they disrespecting the candidates?

truth to power
Truth to power – Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors addresses the crowd in front of Democratic presidential candidate, Gov. Martin O’Malley (far right), Tia Oso of the Arizona Black Alliance for Just Immigration and journalist/activist Juan Antonio Vargas. Phoenix, July 18, 2015

But respect must be mutual, and one candidate, at least, appears to be tone deaf. “All lives matter,” he says, and thinks he’s being understanding in his emphasis. Even after the crowd reacts angrily, he says it again, even more emphatically. Oh my god.

If I die in police custody…

The chanting doesn’t end. The shouting never ebbs. It shouldn’t.

If I die in police custody…

It takes me about three minutes of hearing them to shut the gremlins in my mind and listen to what they’re saying. Black lives matter. Black voices matter. Two young Black women died in police custody, last week.

People are dying and the one audience that should be fighting for that cause, existentially, is giving it short shrift – a panel here, a speaker there. If they cannot be heard here, then where? If not now, then when?

Americans of color are losing their sons and daughters to police and vigilante violence, and people forget their names. They splash across news sites and TV networks and are gone. “Say my name,” they shout. Beyond Trayvon Martin. Beyond Eric Garner. Beyond Michael Brown. Beyond the lives of those Black men, and too many others, are the names of the Black women who you never hear, because they don’t fit the American narrative of threat that society forces on men of color.

Say my name.

Sandra BlandGabriella NaverezTanisha Anderson

Say my name.

Kindra ChapmanAnna BrownKyam Livingston

Say my name.

Sheneque ProctorShereese FrancisNatasha McKennaKimberlee Randall KingAlesia Thomas

At Netroots Nation, the annual convention of progressive bloggers and activists where the demonstration took place, many were angry at the disruption, and felt the event was “hijacked,” as one attendee told me. It’s easy to give in to the anger, to be hooked by it like fish, but we’re progressives. We’re supposed to listen, and then make judgement. Thank goodness, it seems as if the event’s organizers did just that.

In a statement released shortly after the Candidate Town Hall, they wrote:

“Netroots Nation stands in solidarity with all people seeking human rights.

“With today’s Town Hall, our aim was to give presidential candidates a chance to respond to the issues facing the many diverse communities represented here.

“Although we wish the candidates had more time to respond to the issues, what happened today is reflective of an urgent moment that America is facing today.

“In 2016, we’re heading to St. Louis. We plan to work with activists there just as we did in Phoenix with local leaders, including the #BlackLivesMatter movement, to amplify issues like racial profiling and police brutality in a major way.

“It is necessary and vital to continue this conversation. We look forward to doing so in the coming year.”

In solidarity, because even within our liberal echo chamber, there are places we don’t go to, together. This time, we must. Lives depend on it.

No more weeping,
No more weeping,
No more weeping over me.
And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my lord and be free


Flag, fife and drum – a teen parade

In the fight for our continuing freedom, the battle for our enduring liberty, the teens have been handed the flag, the drum and the fife. There have been three recent events regarding teenagers in America that have brought those who are our hope for a salvageable future to the fore. One is the president’s doing, one is the Supreme Court’s doing, and one is the doing of a young man whose intelligence has caused him to engage in critical thinking and free himself from the restraints of social conservatism.

The Flag

When President Obama signed an executive order in June, ceasing the deportation of children of illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States before they were 16 years old, he ticked the first box in 2010’s failed DREAM Act, and set the course for future citizenship for those who love the only country most of them have ever known.

As the president put it at his Rose Garden remarks, on June 15:

“Put yourself in their shoes.  Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.”

“It is,” he added, as a reporter interrupted, “the right thing to do.”

But Arizona’s Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, did not agree, calling it “blatant political pandering by a president desperate to shore up his political base.”

Still, if you ask the kids for whom this order is intended, they just want a chance to contribute. “You give a student, a young person, the opportunity to keep going to school, to become a better person… ultimately it’s going to be helping the country,” Angel Monjaraz, a young immigrant, told Roanoke, Virginia’s WDBJ.

That sentiment seems to fall on deaf ears for known conservatives, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. When the Court overturned almost all of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, known as SB1070, last week, he worked a comment about the president’s executive order into his state sovereignty granting opinion, taking the unprecedented step of questioning its wisdom as policy. It “boggles the mind,” he wrote, referring to the government’s assertion that the states cannot write their own laws on how to deal with something that’s federal responsibility, regardless of the federal government’s enforcement approach.

Luckily for kids, that’s not the only decision of the Court where Scalia was at the losing end.

The Drum

With all the attention focused on the Supreme Court’s decision last week on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual responsibility provision, known as the mandate, what many people missed were the part of the ACA and other decisions that came down on the side of the well being of children and our society.

First, regarding health care, by allowing the health care law to stand, parents of very sick children, with pre-existing conditions, will not have to worry about their insurance coverage being terminated, leaving them with the added burden of obscene medical bills. Also, young adults who are having problems finding jobs with health benefits these days, will still be able to be covered, on their parents policy, until they are 26 years old.

But the decision which points to a positive march for children’s rights, and away from the prison industrial complex, is the case of two young men, who were both 14 years old, both convicted of murder, both sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, under mandatory guidelines in the states in which they were tried.  The Court ruled that having such harsh sentences for minors constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” and thus violated the protections of the Eighth Amendment.

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan, in the majority opinion, “precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features—among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”

Indeed, it is that “immaturity, impetuosity,” and naivete, that was recognized by our final example, in his own past, that brought him to a new understanding of his own freedom and liberty.

The Fife

In 2010, a 14-year-old boy wowed a group of political conservatives at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, for the second year in a row, by delivering a cogent, coherent talk about how strongly he believed that only conservatism embraced American values. The young man, Jonathan Krohn, who lives in severely Republican Georgia, was back in the news recently, reacting to comedian Bill Maher’s  use of tape, from Krohn’s CPAC address, on his June 22 HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher program, using it to admonish Republicans, “When 14-year-old boys sound exactly like you do…maybe you should rethink the shit that’s coming out of your mouth.” Maher went on to point to the booing of a gay soldier and cheering for a deadly, electrified border fence during the GOP primary debates, and added, “No wonder 14-year-old boys can do your act. You act exactly like 14-year-old boys!”

Reached by Politico, Krohn, now 17, admitted that his political views have markedly changed. “I stopped being a social conservative. It just didn’t seem right to me anymore,” he told Politico, adding, “it’s not because I’ve become a liberal from being a conservative — it’s just that I thought about it more. The issues are so complex, you can’t just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue.”

Appearing on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Monday night, Krohn, who plans to attend New York University in the fall, further explained, “When I revisited everything else, I said, ‘You know, I don’t really agree with everything I wrote [in two conservative books] then, so I should just move on,’ and the first things to go were my social conservative ideas because it just seemed so regimental, so structured, so dogmatic, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I’d rather have my ability to have my opinion on any issue I want.”

Wanting children to have their own opinion and think freely is decidedly not conservative dogma, as the education plank of the 2012 Texas Republican Platform Committee report affirmed recently:

“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

The conservative wing of the Republican party, which seems to have all the power, proudly claims to be the real embodiment, the true guardians, of American freedom and liberty. Yet freedom constrained by dogma means original thought has its limits, when measured against the litmus of conservative ideology. That’s no way to grow our young minds, our future, or our country.


Ron Paul’s sphere sucks young voters into racism’s toilet

English: Given permission by creators and owne...

To the casual observer, like Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas F. Schaller, the perception of the Ron Paul brand is a simple one.

“To look at him,” Schaller points out in his opinion piece, Tuesday, “Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul seems harmless. He’s cute and contrarian. He wears poorly fitting suits. He’s decidedly un-slick. You almost want to pat him on the head.

“But,” he adds, later, “don’t let Dr. Paul’s impish, avuncular and professorial style fool you.”

Republican presidential contender, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), is in a maelstrom of his own making. Buoyed early in his political career by the support of swastika-wearing supremacists, he is struggling to disavow his ties to those groups, so in a season of wild political extremism, he can appear an even-tempered moderate.

The legacy, paleoconservative anti-federalists, like the folks in white hoods and Tim McVeigh and gun-hoarding militias, have harpooned the general anti-government backlash of the Tea Party and Occupy movements, and siphoned out those who blame others for their problems. The sucking sound is turning heads, and getting those who should know better to cock an ear like a curious dog.

If they would just go sniffing around, the educated youth who are drawn to the vortex would realize that those who were “taken” by the language of the Libertarian Party, are the ones looking for easy answers. They would find that too many Ron Paul supporters are a caucus of racist, xenophobic and ignorant American voters, that hangs on the dependent clauses that complete the phrase, “Things would be so much better in this country, if …”

Like, “Things would be so much better in this country if we controlled our borders,” or, “Things would be so much better in this country if everyone owned a gun,” or, “Things would be so much better in this country if only we didn’t have Obama [read ‘a black man’] in the White House.”

So, why is Ron Paul such a big hit with racist extremists? One answer, on a web page of the white supremacy group Stormfront, asks a similar question, according to an article in the Herald-Tribune. “I understand he wins many fans because his monetary policy would hurt Jews,” one of the answers, submitted in the comments section, says.

The HT article goes on to describe some of the controversial language in a couple Ron Paul newsletters from the 1990s, that has raised some of these charges of racism:

“In the mid-1990s, between his two stints as a Texas congressman, Mr. Paul produced a newsletter called The Ron Paul Survival Report, which only months before the Oklahoma City bombings encouraged militias to seek out and expel federal agents in their midst. That edition was titled ‘Why Militias Scare the Striped Pants Off Big Government.’

“An earlier edition of another newsletter he produced, The Ron Paul Political Report, concluded that the need for citizens to arm themselves was only natural, given carjackings by ‘urban youth who play whites like pianos.’ The report, with no byline but written in the first person, said: ‘I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self-defense. For the animals are coming.'”

Despite his name on the newsletter’s masthead, Rep. Paul says he didn’t make those statements, that others wrote them for him. Even if that’s true (there’s no byline attributing authorship to the articles), one would think that a politician, albeit an activist one, would want to be more careful with his branding, and do some oversight.

Paul, though, gives the excuse of the dirty cop who claims he was taking money from the mob because he was doing some super-secret undercover sting, that only he knew about, and he was trying to flip an informant. He’s not guilty of association, he says, because, “I’ll go to anybody who I think I can convert to change their viewpoints… I’m always looking at converting people to look at liberty the way I do.”

The problem is, when you throw the ignorant-furious-paranoid and the educated-furious-frustrated in the same pool, you can’t wipe them down with the same towel of liberty, without their shit getting on everything.